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How champions build trust and camaraderie

08/22/2017, 1:15pm MDT
By Elizabeth Boger

Kelly Pannek knows the importance of a team-first attitude. For three seasons, the Plymouth, Minnesota, native has played with the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers women’s hockey team – studying the culture, building relationships with teammates and winning two NCAA Division I national championships.

This fall, Pannek will be establishing connections with a new team.

As she postpones her senior season for a chance to compete with the United States Women’s National Team at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games, Pannek will trade her maroon and gold jersey for red, white and blue.

She may be one of the newcomers to a club of veterans, but Pannek knows what she learned at the University of Minnesota and in youth hockey will ultimately help boost the synergy with her new teammates. 

“It’s kind of a crash course to get to that (Olympic) level,” Pannek said. “But it’s that mindset you need to have to be successful as a team at any level. We have that commitment with Minnesota, where you have to be committed to the team. With Team USA, it’s the same thing. You have to be committed to what we’re trying to do and be a good teammate.”

Pannek will be playing with some familiar faces, including former college teammate Dani Cameranesi. The duo, which hopes to compete with Team USA this winter in PyeongChang, South Korea, offered advice about being a good teammate that transcends hockey age classifications.

Hold each other accountable

Accountability holds a team together. While each player may have strengths and weaknesses, it’s important to set expectations and work through each challenge or celebration as a team.

“It all starts with yourself,” said Pannek, a 2016-17 first-team All-American who finished second in the nation with 62 points (19G, 43A). “If I’m in the right state of mind mentally, and if I’m calm and in control of my emotions, that can carry over to my teammates. Holding each other accountable in that regard helps everyone balance the bad days and good days.”

At 12U, accountability is not too much to ask of players. They need to learn and accept that their behavior affects teammates, and therefore, the team as a whole. Stick-smashing, fit-throwing, board-kicking, bullying and verbally abusing the referee is destructive behavior. It distracts teammates, erodes focus, wastes energy and lowers morale. Coaches and parents should work together to teach young players accountability for their actions and reactions, ensuring that their behavior elevates the team. This extends to things like individual players’ pre-game routines as well. Some players need a pre-game two-touch session to play their best. Others need loud music. Still others need quiet and visualization. It’s critical that players think about more than themselves and find ways to ensure that their preferred routine doesn’t negatively affect teammates.

When coaches set a strong foundation for individual accountability, good things happen.

“We’re very lucky because we’ve become more than a team (at Minnesota),” said Cameranesi, who tallied 93 goals and 108 assists during her four years with the Gophers, good enough for seventh all-time in program history. “We’re best friends and our own little family and unit, which really helps and translates to when we’re on the ice.”

Communicate openly

Even when you get to know your teammates well, each may react differently to criticism or praise.

A good teammate spends time learning how his or her teammates respond to their communication style, whether it’s through monitoring body language or candidly talking to one another about it. When they discover what’s most effective, it will aid everyone in working together.

“I think it takes time, and you have to really get to know your teammates,” Cameranesi said. “If someone is down, there are people who want you to talk to them and there are others who want to figure it out themselves. It comes down to knowing your team well and knowing everyone on a personal level.”

Trust each other

It takes time to build trust, but the end result will yield a sense of reassurance that you’re all working toward the same goals.

“You know no matter what happens, there are people behind you picking you up,” Pannek said. “It’s just that sense of comfort, knowing these people have your back and they’re going to play with you and fight for you.”

How to shape that level of trust is dependent on how much effort you’re willing to put into your relationships with your squad. Communicate openly, be honest and support your teammates.

Coaches also play a significant role in trust-building. Through games and off-ice challenges designed for trust- and team-building, not to mention nurturing a consistent environment of accountability, they can help facilitate greater trust among teammates.

“I think a big part of being on a team is trust, and that’s not only built in the weight room or in the locker room – it’s about building trust and relationships off the ice as well,” Cameranesi said. “It helps you that much more when you’re playing in games.”

Bond off the ice

Though trust can be built in practice and during games, getting to know your teammates during off-ice activities is essential. Coaches and parents can schedule time to bond as a team, whether that involves going to a movie, watching a hockey game or doing homework together.

Players already devote time together on the ice, but building camaraderie in other ways will ultimately improve collaboration as they’re competing during games.  

Have a positive perspective

With any team, there are many ups and downs throughout the season. Instead of dwelling on what you can’t change, shift your perspective toward where you want your team to be and what you can do to help the team get there.

By changing your perception, you can generate good vibes and create a positive atmosphere for everyone around you.

“The important thing for young kids to remember is to have fun,” Cameranesi said. “If you’re not having fun, you don’t really love what you’re doing. I think in life, you have to find something you love. If you’re having fun and everyone else is having fun around you, it’s really easy to be a good teammate.”

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