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Being a Better Teammate with Jenny Potter

12/04/2015, 1:45pm MST
By Michael Caples - Special to

When you win a gold medal at the Olympics, there’s a good chance you know how to be a good teammate.

Jenny Potter, a four-time Olympian and now head coach of the women’s hockey team at Ohio State, says it’s crucial for young hockey players to be good teammates.

Remember, It’s a Team Sport

Potter, an All-American and national champion at the University of Minnesota Duluth, said that teamwork is what makes hockey such a special sport.

“I think what’s so great about hockey is that there are so many elements to it, and it takes five hockey players working together and a goalie backstopping the net,” Potter said. “But with any team sport, you rely on your teammates to pick up your slack when you’re having a bad day or you make a mistake, and I think that’s one of the greatest things about a team sport. It’s not just on you, you have people who have your back and you have your teammates’ backs.”

You Don’t Have to Like Everyone, But …

Every kid is not going to be best friends with every other kid, but they all should understand that they have to work together. While most players find lifelong friendships at the rink, they also find that they don’t see eye-to-eye with everyone. You have to learn how to work with the latter.

“I’ve seen players go to the extent of not passing to other players because, ‘A,’ they want the points or, ‘B,’ they don’t like them. I think the biggest thing in life is that you’re not going to like everyone, but you need to respect people and treat them how you want to be treated,” said Potter. “It goes back to doing what’s best for the team. Depending on the age group, you need to learn that not everyone’s going to like you, you’re not going to like everyone, but you’re a team, and you have to like each other on the ice. You have to use each other and be teammates. It doesn’t mean you have to be best friends, but you have to do what’s right for the team.”

Good Relationships Can Last You a Lifetime

It’s never too early to encourage your child to build positive relationships with the other kids he or she meets. No matter how far a player goes in hockey, the relationships built at the rink can last a lifetime.

“With all the years I’ve played hockey, I’ve made a lot of friendships and connections through life,” Potter said. “It definitely helps you. You might not always think about that when you’re little or going through high school and college, but after you get done with your schooling and wherever hockey takes you, you have to go out there and get a job, and all the people that you have met along the way definitely can help you in pursuing opportunities. Like I said, I think those opportunities present themselves more in the future than the immediate, when you’re little.”

The Pick-Me-Up

Parents should encourage their child to try and “pick your teammates up” if someone is having a bad day, bad game or bad practice. Remember, the best players are those who are not just great themselves, but those who can be great and make everyone around them better, too.

And even if it’s not hockey related – maybe it was a tough day at school – everyone appreciates a friend trying to make them feel better. That’s especially true for kids.

“Everyone’s going to have a tough day, but with a team sport, you always have somebody there that you can lean on a little bit.”

And when your kid has a tough day, his or her teammates will return the favor.

Coaches Love Team Players

Potter said that when she’s scouting and recruiting, she can tell which players are good teammates – and so can any youth coach. When a player demonstrates that they help others, support teammates and work together to achieve a common goal, coaches take note. The same can be said for kids in school. Teachers value students who make the effort to work well with their peers.

“I think that’s a huge thing. I think it speaks volumes about a player and their character as a person,” said Potter. “When I’m recruiting, obviously any coach wants the best hockey players, but more so, I’m recruiting kids that are really committed to education as well as being committed to being an ultimate team player and just being a good person.”

Wanting to Score vs. Being a Puck Hog

Potter acknowledged that, when she was growing up, she was a little selfish when it came to the game of hockey. She understood, however, that no matter how competitive she wanted to be, she wouldn’t excel without her linemates and teammates.

“I was very competitive,” Potter said. “I wanted to score goals, but not at the expense of not helping my teammates. Anybody wants to score goals and do their job, but I think the biggest tip is that you have to be a little bit selfish, but you have to be unselfish when it comes to the team. You have to put your team above yourself. That is a hard thing to teach, and sometimes hard for kids to understand. If you always put the team above yourself, I think there’s a lot of success and a lot of reward, and it goes a long way.”

Playmaking skills are just as valuable as goal-scoring skills. If you feel your child is developing a bit of the puck-hog mentality, encourage them to set new “goals” with assists. It shouldn’t take long for a child to start enjoying setting up teammates, and ultimately the entire team, for success.

Parents Must Encourage Teamwork

Potter said that parents must encourage their children to be better teammates, not better individual superstars. The focus should be on teamwork and fun. Improvement will follow.

“You want the best for your child. I understand that – I have two kids of my own,” Potter said. “But it’s also, again, putting the team above yourself. Sometimes it’s hard from the outside to understand what a coach is doing, and it’s what’s best for the team. Have a positive outlook and be positive with your child. Don’t coach over the coach, and remember to praise and promote other players on the team.

“Sometimes it gets misconstrued because, you know, in today’s society, everyone is trying to get a college scholarship or this or that. Just remember, we’re playing a game because it’s supposed to be fun. It’s a game.”

Building team skills at an early age will pay off in so many ways down the road, in sports and in life.

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