Alyssa suggested I write a post about humility a while ago, after I made an impassioned case for it to be one of our team values for the Junior National Team at training camp. Recently, Ultiworld published an article about the top high school teams in the country, and when it came to my high school (#1 seed baby!) completely failed to mention one of the captains, Nariah, who has been a captain since we co-captained my sophomore year, who played on the u20 National Team, and who is an absolute pillar of the program.
This started me thinking about what kinds of players get hyped up and valued, and what kinds of players are working quietly for their teammates and not getting recognition. And this brought me back to humility.
Nariah is an explosive player that has the ability to make massive plays for a team. But in high school, on our club team, her nickname was “space master” after we all watched film of our team playing one day. Play after play, Surge (our coach then) pointed out how Nariah was maintaining her spacing and positioning in our sloppy, overeager horizontal stack. She often caught goals because she took the time to make space and be in the right place for the continues, but just as often she didn’t score the goals because the space that she created was taken by another cutter, likely a cutter with less field awareness and a more unrefined desire to get the disc (someone like me) who would end up scoring.
Reflecting on what I appreciated about Nariah as a player reminded me of the ways I appreciate her as a teammate and leader. I appreciate how well she listens to her teammates. Listening is so much harder than talking; talking just requires knowing your own perspective and then opening your mouth. Listening requires knowing your own perspective, and then having the compassion and intelligence to open your mind to other people’s perspectives, and then the humility to change your mind or confidence to keep your own opinion. I always appreciate Nariah’s voice and opinions so much, because they are so thoughtful.
Something that keeps coming up here is humility, my favorite, and I think underappreciated, trait. So here’s my shoutout to humility.
The player who made me appreciate humility as a value is Alika Johnston. Last year at u23 training camp, on the first day, we had a team meeting where we shared what we were looking forward to for the experience of training camp and Worlds. Making friends, playing baller frisbee, becoming a team, and other things like that were all thrown out there. I don’t remember what I said. But I do remember what Alika said.
At this time, I had never met her in person, but I did know that she had won the Callahan and was an important part of two club titles for Scandal. Based on that, she was arguably the best player on the team. I remember having the feeling that on a team like this, made up of the top college talent in the country, I was going to need to fight to prove myself. But when Alika spoke, it changed my outlook and approach to the team. When it was her turn, she said, “I’m looking forward to learning something from each of you.”
A humble player is a good teammate. They don’t have the ego to think that their needs should come before the teams. Whether it’s playing time or running sprints, a humble teammate is putting the team first. Their successes are the team’s successes, the team’s successes are their successes. They do what is asked of them to the best of their ability, and support their teammates as they do the same.
A humble player is a great player. They don’t look past a match-up or a drill because they’re “too good” for it; any skill can be improved. They’re constantly looking to be better than they are, because they don’t believe that what they are is already good enough. They are willing to listen to feedback and try something out, because they believe there’s lots they don’t know. Humble players are the ones outworking their teammates not because they want to win but because nothing is ever good enough.
Humility breeds gratitude. Humility and entitlement can’t coexist; a humble players doesn’t believe they deserve anything, whether it’s a roster spot or playtime or a win over a lower seed. I think gratitude is a life-skill with unending benefit. Appreciating the beauty of each moment increases the joy of each moment. It’s also my favorite mental toughness technique.
Humility isn’t the opposite of confidence. Confidence is important; plenty of athletes struggle with it, and confidence is an ingredient of success. But to keep the two values from being paradoxical, the confidence has to be in the process, not the outcome. Confidence that you can win a game before the first pull goes up is incompatible with humility. But confidence in your own ability to battle step-for-step with your match-up the entire point, and the belief in your possibility of finding success, is valuable.
Finally, humility isn’t a destination, it’s a process. Paradoxically, as soon as you think, “Yeah, I’m humble, I’ve nailed it,” you’ve failed again. Sometimes, teammates or opponents can help with finding humility by schooling you on the field. But ultimately I think it’s got to come from within, and it has to be cultivated with firm intentionality. Or you can fake it till you make it—feeling upset about playing time? Pretend you’ve got less of an ego and go be a great sideline. Works like a charm.
And this can also be a reminder to appreciate the humble plays and players on your team. Sometimes it’s coming from the stars and sometimes it’s coming from the bench, but humility is the grease that makes a great team run smoothly.