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Posted at 07:17 PM ET, 05/30/2012

Transition Game: Competing alongside your friends


It’s no secret that athletes often travel in the same circles. It’s inevitable, you all will eventually gather at the same proverbial watering hole and whether you all get along or not doesn’t really matter, you just want to size up the competition.

 I’ve had approximately 74 teammates over my athletic career, and I now consider fewer than 10 of them to be my close friends. Teammates often fall in that ambiguous category between associate and friend, but sometimes your very best friends are your teammates. If the friendship between teammates can withstand the competitive pressure of sports — especially during the college recruiting process — then that’s probably a friend you should keep.

Being friends with your teammates is certainly better for team chemistry, but it’s important that the business of the team remains at the forefront, and that jealousy is kept at bay.

This spring, I had the opportunity to check out track practice at Forest Park High in Woodbridge. From my seat in the bleachers, the team seemed to get along famously and boast some serious talent.  As I watched warmups, I took note of the athletes that were laughing and joking and those that were silent. Some runners shouted “I beat you!” at the end of relay-style warmup, while others quietly executed their tasks.

The athletes operating in silence were a group of five sophomores who “all have the same attitude,” according to Coach Andrew Trammel. “Very serious; they want to be very successful.” One of the sophomores, Mustaqeem Williams, was named All-Met in the winter after winning the state title in the 55 dash.

“I don’t really try to holler; you know it’s all mental when you’re trying to do those type of workouts,” he said. “You can’t be hollering because if you’re hollering, you can’t get the concentration, you’re not going to know when that gun is going to go off, you don’t know how to react when the gun goes off. So the best point is to be silent... or just block everything out around you.”

Although training approaches vary, concentration is universal. One of my favorite coaches used to say, “Be selfish in a team way.” If you know you aren’t the type that can handle joking around during a workout and get the maximum benefit, then don’t. On the other hand, if you’re the funny guy with the power to distract your teammates with your jovial nature – use your powers for good and not evil: Save it for after practice.

Understanding yourself as an individual and your impact on the team dynamic is imperative for individual and overall success, even more so among friends. 

Friends can be very influential in an athletic career. Healthy competition between friends makes everyone better. The camaraderie of a healthy and successful team is an awesome thing to be a part of, but that doesn’t happen if people don’t understand their roles and the goal.

In college, I identified myself as the type of player that needed continuous reps. I couldn’t really afford days off if I wanted to maintain sharp shooting. One of my younger teammates, whose natural talent and abilities far exceeded my own, didn’t need that extra work; she could relax on her days off. We were great friends, but I knew that what worked for her wouldn’t work for me. I would drag her out of her room and into the gym on our days off until it became routine — and we all got better because of it.

“That’s my friend” can never be an excuse. Friends compete, hold one another accountable, push each other, encourage one another and lose together if those things aren’t taking place. Want to really test your friendships among your teammates? Make a habit of losing and see how long that lasts; I bet your ‘friendships’ won’t stop teammates from seeking out better situations.   However, work hard and win together, then you’ve got a shot at friendships for life.

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Monica McNutt was an All-Met basketball player at Holy Cross Academy who went on to star for the Georgetown women’s team. She will be offering advice to high school athletes who are looking to make the leap to college sports

Got a question for Monica, or an idea she can use for a future post? Leave it here in the comments, or email her at hss@washpost.com. Follow her on Twitter at @__MCM__.

Previously:

Dealing with a coaching change (May 3, 2012)

Taking advantage of social media (April 24, 2012)

Recruiting resources (April 18, 2012)

Managing the expectations of multiple coaches (March 27, 2012)

Coping with the ‘bad’ coach (March 20, 2012)

Dealing with injury (March 13, 2012)

The dual-sport dilemma (Feb. 20, 2012)

Making the most of your college experience (Feb. 14, 2012)

Handling your parents and coaches (Feb. 7, 2012)

Dealing with that special breed of fans: Your parents (Jan. 24, 2012)

Advice for the young star athlete (Jan. 17, 2012)

Offseason is right time to get with the program (Jan. 3, 2012)

Managing to stay close to the game (Dec. 20, 2011)

Leadership, Tebow-style (Dec. 13, 2011)

The importance of attitude (Dec. 6, 2011)

Fine-tuning your “mistake response” (Nov. 22, 2011)

Looking beyond the stat sheet (Nov. 15, 2011)

Battling the “dumb jock” stereotype (Nov. 8, 2011)

Taking advantage of your athletic resume (Nov. 1, 2011)

College recruiting: Finding a program that fits you (Oct. 25, 2011)

Navigating the recruiting process: “Get a clue, control your career” (Oct. 18, 2011)

Secrets to success: Food and rest (Oct. 11, 2011)

Introducing “Transition Game” (Oct. 4, 2011)

By  |  07:17 PM ET, 05/30/2012

 
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