Changing Roles of Individuals in a Team

Recently a concerned parent who is also a youth softball coach called Upward Enterprises for team building advise. The girl’s team had lost yet another tournament. The team members were fighting among each other. The coach was at a lost asking for help to get the team back on track.

We had an interesting conversation about an individual’s changing of roles within the context of a team. One of the ways we try to define roles is by putting them into two categories, first being “On the Ball” and the second as “Off the Ball”. We use this team building analogy because it is simple to understand with clear and defined boundaries. You, as an individual, have the ball or you do not therefore your role is defined.


On the Ball Roles

On the Ball roles are used to solve technical task or problems with a logical sequence of work. I have the ball therefore I can move, pass or score. This role includes specific jobs within the team that get the problem solved. For example, with our softball team, the catcher is almost always on technical task. He or she is catching the ball, calling situational plays and protecting home plate. The catcher’s role is almost always on the ball.

Off the Ball Roles

Off the ball roles are more adaptive tasks or problems. Here an individual’s role may not be as clearly defined. As a player on a sports team, I need to move to support a player with the ball or do another job that helps complete the task. Planning, practice and maintenance are important considerations when dealing with adaptive problems. It is also important when dealing with adaptive problems to develop good communication and have a willingness to support others.

Team Building Results

With understanding of one’s role on the field we can do our job. For example, a pitcher of a softball team has a specific role to throw the ball starting the play. When the ball leaves her hand her role changes to fielding or support players that are fielding the ball until the play ends.  When we do our job on the field other players rally around our example and do their job.

Defining “on the ball” and “off the ball” roles within the team helps us to understand the group process, address problems and become a more cohesive group.  By pulling together and supporting each other, teams can overcome any adversity and challenge. These skills translate on and off the field.

After meeting with the team and the parent/coach, the next weekend after our work session, I received the text message below:

Thought I’d share this with you. Our girls placed second this weekend in their tournament! Only lost by 3 runs. They came together and played their hearts out.