There’s a popular idiom in our society that I got to thinking about this week: “play for the name on the front of the jersey, not on the back.” It’s a saying stemming from and commonly used in the team-sport context. On the front of a uniform is usually the team’s name, and on the back is usually the athlete’s individual name. There are typically competing and contradictory influences for athletes that are magnified in a team environment. Athletes can individually feel pressure to act in more self-serving ways in order to make the better personal stats, make the starting roster, make the best teams, make the most money, make the highest records, and make the hall of fame. It’s an artful balance—each player must play his or her position well for the team to succeed, so individual stats and successes are a necessary part of a team. However, coaches and players have experienced time and again that self-serving focus by an individual in a team sport can often have a limiting effect on the individual reaching full potential. An individual cannot survive without the whole.
With that background in mind, I recently heard a variation on the phrase from Bobby Dagnel, a Texas Tech University football player counselor and advisor. Dagnel said, “Play for the team on the front of the jersey, and people will remember the name on the back of the jersey.” I thought that was meaningfully worded; there’s a couple of word choices that stood out to me in this version. First, this version identifies and honors something us “mere mortals” all have some longing for—to be remembered. The phrasing is instantly relatable to our personal strivings to be esteemed or valued by others. Second, Dagnel’s variation takes it a step further and describes how to achieve personal success in a sustainable way. It advises that people can succeed by serving others—our team. The traditional variation of this saying usually says “play for the name on the front”, but I think the word-choice of team, instead, is instructive. Something or someone else’s name is just that—a name—and not always altogether inspiring; there’s nothing personal about it, and it can feel disconnected from you. But playing or working in service to a team, a team you are part of and connected to, makes it personal. It affects you.
Taking this all into consideration, let’s think of this phrase in terms of your job. First, identify what “teams” you are a part of. Examples may be part of sales team, part of a team with your customers, part of a team with vendors, part of a team with community partners etc. Second, what does success look like for each team? Third, what are your own behaviors within the team? What tendencies do you have, and what effect do they have on team? Finally, what are some ways you could put the team first? What are some ways you can positively contribute to the development of the team?