John Russell's sports column appears Sundays in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 871-4209 or email jrussell@SteamboatToday.com.
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If you are looking for an example of what it means to be a team player, don’t look to the NFL, NBA or Major League Baseball.
If you’re looking for one of the best examples of a guy doing all the right things for his team, start your search with the U.S. Nordic Combined Ski Team and head coach Dave Jarrett.
Jarrett, who was an athlete with the U.S. Ski Team from 1992 to 1998, always has understood what it means to be a good teammate. He was the perfect example as an athlete and has continued to stress it now as a coach.
Last week, the U.S. Ski Team announced that it is going to recognize Jarrett for his accomplishments as a coach. He was named the USSA Coach of the Year and also earned the International Nordic Combined Coach of the Year honor. He earned them after the members of the U.S. Ski Team dominated the Olympic Nordic combined events at Whistler Olympic Park in British Columbia in February.
Led by top performances from Billy Demong, who won gold in the large hill individual event, and Johnny Spillane, who won silver in both individual events, the U.S. team proved it was one of the best, if not the best, teams in the world.
But the crowning moment may have been when Demong, Spillane, Todd Lodwick and Brett Camerota joined forces and raced to the silver in the team relay event. The showing highlighted the best American Nordic combined performance ever at the Olympics, and Jarrett deserves a lot of the credit for pulling this group of athletes together, getting the top guys to buy into his system and leading the team to a new level.
But after covering Jarrett as an athlete and watching his rise through the coaching ranks, I wasn’t surprised when he elected to pass the credit for his success on to the athletes, assistants and service guys he works with. Just like the top finishes at the Olympics, he says it always comes back to the team.
I wouldn’t expect anything less from Jarrett.
In today’s world of professional sports, the idea of doing something for a team or as a team has been lost in a pile of million-dollar contracts and egos the size of Shaquille O’Neal’s jersey. Sure, athletes still want to win championships, but sometimes it’s difficult to gauge a player’s true motive. There are times when I question whether the player is competing for his team or the next big contract.
Let’s face it: In most major sports, the athletes you are cheering for today are likely to be playing for some other team tomorrow. It’s not all the players’ fault; in an effort to win, and win quickly, teams in the major sports have been forced to change starting lineups the way most people change socks.
Sure, Jarrett’s story is a little different. Nordic combined isn’t as big as football, basketball or baseball. There are no other teams competing for U.S. talent, no multimillion-dollar contracts to be signed, or even being offered. But it still is refreshing to see Jarrett’s faith in a team approach. It’s something that every athlete, and every sport, can learn from.