Steamboat Springs Most athletic teams, or teams of any kind, can have members or moments that stray from the overall goal and foster a negative environment.
How a team responds to that negativity can be a huge factor in its success — or failure.
“The bad teams I was on, put up with it. … They let that happen,” Under Armour co-founder and former NFL player Ryan Wood said Sunday to a crowd of student-athletes in the Steamboat Springs High School auditorium. “They never confronted it. … You’ve got to confront a problem, or that problem will continue to be a problem.”
To illustrate his point, Wood told a story about his senior year at Arizona State University, when he was captain of a Division I football team that was struggling despite having about 15 future NFL players in the locker room — including Jake Plummer, who roomed with Wood and would go on to play quarterback for the Denver Broncos.
During one team meeting, Wood said, he noticed some players goofing off in a situation emblematic of the Sun Devil’s lackluster season.
So, Wood said, he got right in the face of one of the slacking players — one of “the biggest and baddest” guys on the team, he said — grabbed the player’s shirt, shook him and told him, “I’m not here for my health!”
Among other things.
“Physical dominance, that’s not the best way to get your point across,” Wood clarified to students Sunday.
But he said that in that situation, his action seemed the best way to “rattle the cages” of his teammates and make a statement that a losing atmosphere would not be tolerated.
The Sun Devils built on that moment through the rest of the season, Wood said. A year later, in 1996, the team went 11-0 before playing Ohio State in the Rose Bowl for a shot at a national title — a game Arizona State lost in the final seconds.
That story was the most passionate part of Wood’s talk to about 100 students, coaches and teachers, in the first session of an ongoing leadership symposium to instill positive peer cultures in high school athletics and activities. After Wood’s talk, students gathered with their coaches and other adults to talk about the event’s lessons over pizza.
“You’ve got to set the tone for your teammates,” freshman soccer player Michael Wong said.
Peter White, also a freshman soccer player, said he was “very glad” he attended Sunday’s event.
“There’s the kids that just want to goof off, and there are kids that actually want to improve,” White said.
When asked how to make sure your teammates are the latter, not the former, White gave a simple, quick answer.
“By example,” he said.
Sophomore lacrosse player Emily Spiess shared that sentiment, saying, “It makes a bigger impact on a teammate if it’s a teammate telling you, rather than a coach screaming at you again.”
Sara Pugh, a junior lacrosse player, said Wood’s message also translated to theater. She had just completed a string of performances as Polly Baker in the high school’s production of “Crazy for You.”
“If you don’t have a strong team in theater … it doesn’t turn out to be a good show,” Pugh said.
Wood’s message also resonated with Sailors wrestling coach Shane Yeager.
“To change the culture of an environment is not always the popular decision,” Yeager said. “That’s what I hope my kids heard.”
Dervla Lacy, of Grand Futures Prevention Coalition, and Kenny Reisman, a Grand Futures board member and Steamboat Springs City Councilman, helped organize the event.
Steamboat athletic director and boys basketball coach Luke DeWolfe said future symposium events will occur before every athletic season.
DeWolfe told students that Sunday’s message was not intended to apply only to high school activities.
“Leadership is something that doesn’t stop when you walk out of these doors and graduate,” DeWolfe said. “It’s something that goes on for the rest of your life.”
— To reach Mike Lawrence, call 871-4233 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org