I went with my friend to watch his daughter’s travel team play in an AAU basketball tournament a few weeks ago. It was a fun day and I enjoyed watching her team play.

The car ride home, however, was far less enjoyable. Usually, the parents are the reason for unpleasant car rides home. But this time, it was the athletes.

My friend’s daughter and two of her teammates were sitting in the back seat, watching the video of their last game on her phone.

At first, I was impressed with their commitment. The way they were analyzing the game and assessing how they played was admirable and demonstrated initiative. But their self-assessment soon turned into criticism of the other players on their team.

“Oh look at how slow she’s moving.”

“She has no clue where she’s supposed to be on that play.”

“She didn’t even bother to play defense there.”

The more they criticized their teammates, the higher my blood pressure got. I finally heard enough and said something—not because their critique was inaccurate, but because it was wrong.

“You guys are going to tear your team apart if you keep that up,” I said.

They seemed surprised by my assertion, so I elaborated: “Clearly, no one has taught you how to watch game film.

“You need to watch the entire play first to gain a broad understanding of what happens. Then, you rewind it and watch it again. This time, you focus only on yourself during that entire play. You can take notes and analyze your own play as openly as you’d like.”

They nodded their heads, signaling that they understood.

“After that, you can rewind the video and focus individually on the other players if you want. But what you cannot, and should not, do is openly criticize their play to other players if they aren’t present,” I said.

Openly criticizing another teammate in this manner is a surefire way to create unnecessary drama. What is said will inevitably get back to the teammate being criticized. Feelings will be hurt. Resentment will manifest. Drama will ensue.

And a fractured team will be the outcome.

My friend’s daughter and the two teammates watching the video with her in the backseat were presently on good terms. But that situation can change in the blink of an eye for a variety of reasons.

All it takes is for one of them to say something to another teammate. You should’ve heard what so-and-so was saying about _______.

To be clear, none of the girls in the backseat were being malicious. They were watching the video so that they and their team could improve. But nevertheless, they were breaking a cardinal rule of being a good teammate: Resist the urge to openly criticize another teammate behind that teammate’s back.

Adhering to this rule can be challenging but keeping it sacred goes a long way towards keeping teams together.

Incidentally, sports teams aren’t the only teams that need to keep this rule sacred. It behooves every type of team to do so.

Teammates holding each other accountable can be beneficial. But criticizing a teammate outside of that teammate’s presence doesn’t fall under this heading. Criticizing them behind their back equates to gossip, hearsay, and rumor—none of which will ever provide any benefit to any team.

If you happen to observe something that can help a teammate improve, either share your findings with your team leaders (coaches) and let them address it or share your critique directly with the individual involved.

But resist the urge to share your critique with others behind the critiqued teammate’s back.

As always…Good teammates care. Good teammates share. Good teammates listen. Go be a good teammate.

Lance Loya is the founder and CEO of the Good Teammate Factory and the creator National Be a Good Teammate Day (July 22nd). He is a former sports coach turned bestselling author, blogger, and professional speaker, who inspires TEAMBUSTERS to become TEAMMATES. You can follow him on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or through his weekly Teammate Tuesday blog.

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