I paid my dues! I deserve to play!

Whenever our group gathers someone will invariably let go with "I paid my dues!" drawing a round of chuckles from those present.  The members of this group played on the same team years ago. We were a better than average team, but not an exceptional one. As can often be the case, the friendships established through competing together against others has lasted through the years. There are many good memories that bind us together. Great plays, championships won and lost. Fellowship before and after games. "I paid my dues!" is the single memory that most resonates with this group.

The team gathered throughout the preseason to work on technique, tactics, conditioning and developing an identity of who we would collectively be on the field of play.  We struggled through difficult practices, various bumps bruises and injuries, learning to play together against other teams. Well, most of the team did.  There was this one guy who signed up and paid to play, but was largely absent from preseason activities.

On opening night the team was jazzed with nervous energy. We were excited to get the season underway. We were pumped!  Ready to go into athletic battle with our buddies and see how we measured up against another team. I mean OPENING NIGHT, right!?

We came out strong and the game was going our way. Everything was clicking and we went up big early. Comfortably in control at the break our coaches were reminding us to stick with the game plan in the second half. We were to treat the second half as if the score were 0-0. Be disciplined and play as we practiced, as we had prepared to play and as we played in the first half.  That's when Donny stood up and proclaimed "I paid my dues! I deserve to play too!"

Well, Donny was the guy who skipped practices and other team functions. He missed out on so much preparation to play that I didn't even think of him as a teammate. He was more ... well, in the context of the team ... he just was.

As we prepared to play the second half the coach asked Donny to remain behind.  They had a short talk before joining us on the field.  About the only thing I remember is Donny looking very angry as we took the field.  After we won the game and were coming off the field congratulating one another I do not recall if Donny was present or not.  I never saw Donny in the context of the team again. What had been a friendly off-the-field relationship took on a decided chill.

Our coach eventually shared with us what was communicated to Donny at halftime of that first game. The message was an eye opener to me and I think to each of my teammates. After a fast start to the season we had hit a lull. No, not a lull, we were in a prolonged losing streak. This is when Ross, our coach, shared with us the gist of the message he had delivered to Donny.

Donny had paid his money for the right to be a part of our club, our team. This is what Donny meant when he had proclaimed "I paid my dues! I deserve to play!"  Coach Ross had a bit different idea about what it meant to pay one's dues.  He told Donny he would not give him anything that was not earned, including playing time. To give playing time to anyone who had not earned it through properly preparing to play would be lowering the club and team standards. When Donny had begun to explain he had to work, suffered an injury and had had other commitments, Coach Ross shut him down with a simple "No excuses."  Coach went on to point out that even being present at practices was not good enough. There would be no reward for merely participating. Everyone was expected to give a full effort every day.  Healthy and active or injured and inactive physically - it did not matter. You need to be attentive and contribute. There was no room on a successful team for laziness or mediocrity in effort given to the team. He ended by telling Donny that he had been disrespectful to him as the coach, his teammates and perhaps most importantly to the opportunity paying his monetary dues had afforded him.  Furthermore, by disrupting halftime of a team event with such a display of selfishness he had announced how unappreciative and ungrateful he actually was as it concerned representing the club and the team.

So, while the lasting impression we have of Donny is "I paid my dues!"  the lasting lesson Donny contributed to is monetary dues hold little to no value in team sports.  The actual dues that matter most in team situations are being present and contributing positively in whatever manner one can. Those were the expectations for our team. Those were standards we set and upheld.  No excuses. Just give the best, most intelligent, effort to the team each and every day.  Being present is not enough - ask "what can I do for my team" and do it.  Even when injured - conduct stretching, practice the team's communication, do rehab work in an effort to return to play or be a cheerleader offering encouragement to your teammates. Be active in the team process. Never take for granted the opportunity to be a part of the team.  Pay your (non-monetary) dues!