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  • Writer's pictureShaylan Ahearn

How To Determine and Thrive in your Team Role



One of the biggest challenges I faced when I moved from high school to college sports

was discovering what my role would be. Growing up I was the leader of my team. Whether it

was my 6th grade AAU basketball team or my high school lacrosse team, I always strived to be

the player that led through my actions, hard work, and determination. I developed into a player

that my teammates looked at, listened to, and relied on in pressure situations, which gave me the

confidence to perform. Their reliance made me feel like they trusted that I would get the job

done. I felt supported, I felt strong, I felt able, and I felt confident. I knew my role and I loved it.

Then college hit and the confident vocal leader I was, turned into a voiceless freshman. I

walked into a program that graduated 9 starters and was coming off of winning a national

championship. I was a little fish in a big pond, and I had no idea what my role was. This

ambiguity left me tense on the field and somewhat in my head off of it. Was I going to play? Was

I going to start? What position was I going to play? Can I tell my older teammates where to go

on the field? Can I shoot the ball instead of passing it? All these questions were a result of not

knowing my role on the team.

Determining what your role is can be difficult, especially when you are in an entirely new

situation. Becoming a member of a new team, having fellow players graduate, gaining more

experience, teammates getting injured, being injured yourself, and other factors can lead to

ambiguity in your team role. As human beings, if our role feels undetermined or unclear, we

become uncomfortable and insecure. In athletes, insecurity and uncertainty can lead to more

timid play and negative performance on the field. Overall, role ambiguity doesn’t just affect us

as people and players, but it affects our entire team. Why? Every person on a roster is crucial to

the overall team identity and performance, so when one person is unsure it has a domino effect.


Unfortunately, I struggled with determining my role on my team for the first few years of

college, a lot of my teammates did, and it showed on the field. It was not until my junior year

that I truly found my role and embraced it. Once I determined and celebrated my role, everything

else clicked. I was confident again, even though my role was different than it had been in high

school! I felt secure, and because of that, I played better than I ever had before. Me fulfilling my

role allowed my teammates to focus on their roles which made us collectively 1,000 times better

then before.

So, what exactly happened in my junior year that helped me determine, and thrive, in my

role? I took charge of the “controllables”, the things that I had influence over. Want to know

what those “controllables” were? Read more below.


The “controllables” that can help you reach Role Identification and Thrive:


1. Identify your strengths on and off the field (What am I extremely good at?)

First, think about personality traits that stand out to you (Are you energetic, caring,

extroverted, encouraging, etc.). Second, think about social skills that you excel in. (Maybe you

are super calm in high-pressure situations, or you can make people laugh when they seem upset).

Third, you can think about sport-specific strengths. (Are you fast? Have good ball-handling

skills? Have good vision and field awareness?)


2. How can I implement these strengths into my play?

After determining your strengths, you can brainstorm how you can employ them on your

new team. A good way to implement your strengths is through setting specific goals for practice

that involve your skills. Ex.) “Today at practice I will use my words of encouragement to lift a

teammate that feels down” or “today I will drive hard to goal to force a double team and open up

my teammates”.


3. How do these strengths fit into my team?

The next step is reflection. Think about how the implementation of these strengths would

fit into your current team. Is there someone that is already established in the role you want to

play? Is there room for the two of you? How can you adapt or position yourself to support your

teammates? These are important questions to ask because as I mentioned earlier, what makes a

team great is when everyone’s roles complement one another and create a complete team

identity.


4. Why is my role important to my team?

Once you have established your strengths, created an implementation plan, and thought

about how you would fit into your team, it is time to determine your “Why”. Take a second to

think about WHY your role is important. Does it help your team score goals? Do you challenge

your teammates and make them better and more prepared, are you the comedic relief when times

are tough? This can sometimes feel like you are complimenting yourself and that is because you

are! You deserve it, you are awesome, and you deserve to know the impact you have on others.

Finding your "why" is key to helping your team find success!


Overall, finding your role on a team can be hard and stressful and may require you to talk

to someone to find clarity. If you struggle with this mental barrier do not be afraid to reach out to

a friend or professional to help you get past this mental block. Check out the “Meet the Team”

page for specifics on how to contact a mental skills clinician today, and know you always have

an entire group of athletes in your corner supporting you.

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