Developing a “Team-First” Mentality

The following is an excerpt from the ultimate guide to coaching youth baseball, Winning Secrets, by Brian Gotta

I remember once when I saw a kid walking off the field after his game. I asked him, “How did you do?” He said, “I threw a one-hitter but they made a bunch of errors and let in some runs. I had a home run though.” I guess he didn’t realize I wasn’t asking how he did personally, but how the team had done. Far too many kids don’t have the team-first attitude. They’d rather go 3 for 3 and lose, than go 0 for 3 and win. This attitude usually starts at home and is not corrected by the coach.

I’m going to go out of my way, from the first moment our team all gets together, to explain our team-first philosophy. This means that anything we do is for the good of the team, not necessarily the good of the individual. I want kids to buy into the fact that when the season is over, even five years down the road, they won’t remember a certain game where they made a great play or hit a home run, but they will remember winning a championship and celebrating on the field with their teammates. They must understand that if everyone is only looking out for themselves, thinking of themselves first and what’s best for them as individuals, we won’t be successful. But if they’re all doing anything they can to make the team better, to help the team win, we’ll be champions. Its a message I learned and preach in business: If we succeed as a group, we’ll prosper as individuals.

I’m building a team that wants to win. And in order to win, they have to help each other out – pick each other up. Have you ever heard a ballplayer say, “Pick me up,” after striking out or making an error? Where do you think that phrase came from? My guess is that it originated in the ultimate team setting – during battles in war. I’ll paint the picture to my players about a platoon advancing under heavy fire. A wounded soldier falls and pleads, “Pick me up,” to his fellow platoon-mate. He’ll pick the injured man up and carry him to safety, not because it is what is best for him, (obviously stopping and then carrying a heavy man on his shoulders makes him more vulnerable), but because the only way an army platoon can be successful is if they all look out for each other. There’s no way he’s going to leave his brother behind.

So how does that relate to my baseball team? If a kid strikes out, I want his teammates to “pick him up.” Saying things like, “Hey, good cuts up there,” or “Good try,” or “You’ll get them next time,” give a player much more confidence than the cold-shoulder or negative comments. If I can get kids to buy into the concept that they must put the welfare of the team ahead – way ahead – of their own personal welfare, we have a much better opportunity to be successful.

Brian Gotta is a former professional youth baseball coach and current volunteer Little League coach and board member. He is the President of CoachDeck and also author of four youth sports novels which can be found at He is also the author of the ultimate guide to coaching youth baseball, Winning Secrets. He can be reached at