SE+ Perspective | a perspective on sports matters

Foul Trouble Means Opportunity

Basketball is one sport where if you commit too many fouls, you can’t play anymore. Often times, the coach needs to sit a player to keep them eligible to play later in the game. The big problem is the coach then needs to replace a good player with a lesser player. It might seem there is little upside to the situation.

But if the team is well organized and cohesive, this kind of challenge is actually an opportunity–because it’s when other players can step up and show what they can do. That’s good for the individual’s career, and it’s good for the team as a whole if another player develops. 

Basketball isn’t the only place where a team might have to cope with a missing member. Say a top sales rep at your business leaves the company, or simply goes on leave for a month. Even a single afternoon without a key employee can be a major challenge sometimes. Making the most of the opportunity depends on three main factors: self-awareness, team-awareness, and trust.

1. Self-Awareness

The team member coming in has to know his or her own strengths and weaknesses. What if a basketball player is great at passing but not so great at shooting? Is this who should run out and try to be the next Steph Curry? Is that likely to work out well?

If you’re the team member stepping up to fill in for a star, don’t try to replace the star if you don’t have the same skill-set. Instead, be yourself, do what you can do, and do it well.

2. Team-Awareness

Coaches don’t put a player in the game unless they know he or she can handle it. The other players need to know what that player can and can’t do, so everyone can work together effectively as a team. None of that awareness happens if the player doesn’t earn it by working hard at every opportunity.

Off the court, we find the same principle; if you want to be given responsibility when it matters, you have to show what you can do even when the stakes seem pretty low.

3. Trust

Now the new player is in the big game, on the critical account. Are the other team members happy about it? Do they trust him or her to do a good job? They’d better, because if they don’t, the whole team is going to break down—even if the new player is actually perfectly capable. On or off the court, secondary players have to earn the trust of their teammates or they won’t receive it.

The key for the entire team is to be ready for the occasional absence of the star player—because it’s going to happen, sooner or later. I’ve experienced this at my company, KazSource. All team members, even those who usually have secondary roles, need to prepare themselves to take on extra responsibility when necessary. And everybody on the team needs to know themselves and everyone else well enough to know who will take on which roles if somebody is suddenly unavailable. The organization that does all this can face an unexpected challenge and only grow stronger.


photo credit: B. Browne via photopin (license)