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Rookie Rituals

Rookie wide receiver Dez Bryant made news at Dallas Cowboys training camp over the weekend by refusing to carry teammate Roy Williams’ shoulder pads.

“I was drafted to play football, not carry another player’s pads,” Bryant, who was the Cowboys’ first-round pick in April, said in explaining his refusal.

As rookie rituals go, carrying a veteran’s shoulder pads seems pretty mild. No one knows yet how Bryant’s refusal will be received by his new teammates.

The incident raises questions for coaches interested in building tight, cohesive units. What specific activities lend themselves to team-building? Which ones might tend to divide?

Obviously, any form of hazing is out. The dictionary says hazing means “to subject (freshmen, newcomers, etc.) to abusive or humiliating tricks and ridicule.” Coaches can — and should — be fired for creating a culture in which that sort of thing can happen.

But how about rites of passage? When Bill Parcells was coaching, it was part of a rookie’s job to bring water to the coach during breaks in practice. That seems reasonable, a reminder that every rookie, no matter how highly drafted or how well paid, is part of a team.

To be most effective, rituals should carry some message. For instance, on the first day of practice, upperclassmen might provide lunch or snack for the newcomers, as a symbol of welcome.

Whatever the coach decides to do, the ritual should be clean and quick, with no lingering effects. Players should be concentrating on acquiring skill, not on navigating social and peer pressures.

There’s a saying that a lawyer should never ask a question unless he knows the answer. Same way with newcomer rituals. Now that Bryant has refused to carry a teammate’s shoulder pads, no one knows if the issue is still stewing in the locker room.

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Coach Tully will be speaking to the Minnesota High School Soccer Coaches Aug. 13. The topics are: “Building Mental Skills in Practice” and “Team-Building With High Ideals.”

To book a talk by Coach Tully, go to this page on www.totalgameplan.com


One comment for “Rookie Rituals”

  1. Hi Mike
    If he carried the pads- which is pretty harmless– it would all be over by now. Now he’s made it into an even bigger thing. I think this is done to show rookies especially at the pro level that they haven’t done anything yet even if they have signed a big contract — they still have to prove themselves.

    Posted by kevin reilly | July 26, 2010, 8:43 pm

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