MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – What was once called “team chemistry” is now known as “team culture” and, then or now, remains one of the most underrated and misunderstood aspects of team sports.
When my friends write to me that they want to know about the latest rookie they read about on the internet, they ask me how big and strong he is, how fast he runs and how many offers he has.
They never ask if he’s a good teammate.
Is it selfish?
Are you willing to accept coaching?
Can you handle constructive criticism?
Is he respectful of others?
Are you willing to work hard?
Locker rooms today are much, much bigger than they used to be, sure, but no matter how big the locker rooms grow, they’ll never be big enough to filter all the dirty air flowing from a squad full of moans and second-guesses.
When I was in school, the most precious possession for anyone associated with Don Nehlen’s soccer teams were those gray shirts with the word “TEAM” emblazoned in blue on the front. It meant something to wear it because Nehlen made sure owning one meant being part of something much bigger than yourself.
This is what Nehlen brought here for the first time from Michigan: a positive and positive attitude that always filtered from top to bottom.
The best West Virginia football team these eyes have ever seen – Nehlen’s undefeated team in 1988 – was incredibly talented and deep. And oh what a chemistry he had!
Jim Carlen’s 1969 team that won 10 games and beat South Carolina at the Peach Bowl was ahead of my time, but I know he had great chemistry because to this day those guys find any reason to get together for meetings. The brotherhood and camaraderie they share is immediately evident to all.
The same can be said for Bobby Bowden’s 1975 Peach Bowl team, which lacked the talent of his ’74 team that only won four games and nearly got him fired.
Some of Rich Rodriguez’s top West Virginia teams also had good chemistry. A team with bad chemistry bounces off the distraught Pitt for doing what he did to Oklahoma in the 2008 Fiesta Bowl?
I raise this because we have heard it numerous times from all who are associated Neal Brownthis spring’s program on the positive atmosphere and the environment at the Puskar Center in Milan.
It began with Brown’s first post-workout comments on March 22 and continued a couple of days later when the defensive coordinator Jordan Lesley took his turn on stage.
“This is a fun group to coach; they really are,” said Lesley, adding that the first two days of training were some of the funniest he has had training in West Virginia due to the enthusiasm and willingness of the guys from. learn and grow.
It’s like a team full of volunteers – not hostages – to borrow a line from Mike Tomlin.
Senior offensive guard James Gmiter admits this is arguably the closest team he’s been to since joining four years ago.
“I arrived here in ’18 and we didn’t do many team activities,” he recalled. “We had events like watching the Super Bowl together, but since manager Brown came here he has brought that familiar look to the team.
“The guys who left didn’t believe it all the way through, and now we have a locker room full of guys who are 100%,” added Gmiter.
Why is team chemistry so much better now than last year, or 2020, or 2019 or sooner?
“I don’t know”, running back coach Chad Scott She said. “That’s a great question. It could be maturity. Some of the guys who’ve been around for a while now have seen where some of the negativity and complaints have taken us, which is nowhere.
“They saw it when it didn’t bring us the results we wanted, and now we have our best players who are respected beyond the football field for how they work, how they behave and how consistent they are daily,” he continued. “When those kids do it on the pitch and their game confirms it, even the younger kids want to do it.”
Safety coach Dontae Wright believes that chemistry is the most important aspect of team sports. Good chemistry doesn’t always guarantee success, but it’s usually a pretty good indicator.
“That locker room and the chemistry you have in that locker room … if it’s good, you have a chance to be special. If it’s mediocre or poor, you have a chance to do nothing,” he admitted.
Wright tells his boys all the time that playing on good soccer teams creates a win-win situation for all.
“It’s not about you and it’s not about an individual. It’s about a team and buying each other because when the team wins, everyone wins,” he explained. “If you want to go to the league, well, it’s easier to get to the league with a team with 10 wins. It’s really hard to get to the league with a team with five wins.
“Can you still do that? Sure, but (NFL) people come more,” Wright continued. “There are more eyes on you when your team is really good. If you do it for us, now we all have a chance. If you do it for yourself, good luck to you.”
For Wright’s point, the Cincinnati Bearcats won 13 games last season, made the College Football Playoffs, and enlisted a school record of nine players, including five chosen in the first three rounds. In the past two seasons, UC have only lost two games and had 13 players selected from NFL teams.
Good players? Absolutely.
Great team culture? I am a willing gambler.
“This is what I’m excited about the most, and I hope you can hear it in my voice; these guys are growing up together,” Wright said. “They’re hanging out with each other out of the locker room. Have we been hanging out of the locker room for the past two years? Yeah, but it wasn’t in a pack of 30 or 40 of them. It was a five or six- personal clique, and when you get cliques you get separation. Am I saying we will have a special season? I can’t say that, but I can say that the locker room is growing to the point where we will give it a chance. “
“We are always together. We have good chemistry from defense to running back … it’s just a different chemistry,” he said. “You don’t want to let that guy down. You want to do everything you can to make the job easier for them and win games.”
Gmiter admits it can be exhausting listening to a room full of lawyers and complainants in the locker room all the time.
“I think a lot of those guys are gone now,” he said. “I honestly don’t think we have any, so it’s just that everyone enjoys being together. All that negativity is gone and there’s no concern for a cultural issue or anything.”
As for some of the outside rumors, which gamers and their families often read on social media, Gmiter said it’s a completely different matter.
“You always have to remember the things people say about you and keep your receipts; it’s something we talk about all the time,” he concluded.