Keeping It All Together- The ‘Glue’ of the team.

“…the glue guy is the identity of your team and the culture of your program.”

-Coach Everist, California Golden Bears 

In July of 2010, the Miami Heat basketball franchise changed forever when the greatest player in the world uttered the phrase “I’m going to bring my talents to South Beach and become a member of the Miami Heat.” It was a momentous occasion for the City, the team, and its fans (including myself). The Heat would now have three of the league’s best players and were poised for a deep playoff run every season, based simply on the fact that they had these three men on their team. No matter how great that team was due to those three players, many reports claim that Shane Battier was the individual that pulled the team together during the 2012 Championship season. Shane was not the best player on that team by any stretch of the imagination. His stats were average and he didn’t have the biggest role in terms of minutes. Yet, it seems he may have been the best teammate. In the Playoffs when Chris Bosh went down with an injury, Shane stepped up. He made the down and dirty plays, was a strong defensive voice among the crowd, and did whatever it took to get the job done. He helped rally the team to reach their potential, in spite of the recognition being cast on the superstars around him. That is what it means to be a  ‘Glue Guy.’

In any sport, especially Water Polo, the fact of the matter is that you may not be the most athletically gifted player out of the 7 in the water. However, coaches at various levels, including D1 programs, often look beyond this fact and find value in a player that is willing to do the dirty work and to provide the extra spark the team needs. They look for players that they can put their trust in to do whatever it takes to get the job done. This individual provides the glue that keeps the team together and moving forward.

We reached out to several prominent figures in our sport to get their take on the who, what, why and how of this kind of player. There are differing opinions on how to identify these individuals on a team, the things they can do to help the team. and  whether or not this individual performs this role on purpose. 

Coach Everist said “You can’t win without talent, but you sure as hell can lose with it and it is these “Glue Guys” that make the difference.” A glue guy or gal can fulfill their role in many different ways. Whether it is done through accumulating comprehensive knowledge of the game, the skills to change any situation for the better, or the ability to be the individual on the team everyone can turn to for advice and help. The talent level on any top team will always be relevant and necessary to winning. However, these Glue Guys & Gals play an often overlooked role in the winning culture of a program, simply because they do not receive the same attention and shine as the MVPs. 

Losing with talent is common across all sports because there is much more that goes into a winning program than just scoring. Culture, attitude, work ethic, resilience, are just to name a few traits that come to mind when thinking of a championship program and a great glue player constantly displays all of them.

Coach Everist went on to say that Glue players are  “…players that bring juice to practice, they compete, they grind and they find ways to keep the group moving in the right direction without being seen.” Or in other words, they do what they need to do, to get the job done. 

As Lil’ Wayne once said “Real g’s move in silence like lasagna.” These men and women are often unheard of to the casual fan, and are most likely not the ones with their name in the paper. At the structural foundation of any winning program, you will find a trail of glue guys/gals that have elevated the program to where it is today. 

Often, we define players by various titles such as “the go to”, “the playmaker”, “the elite defender”, “the MVP”, etc. The list goes on but I rarely ever hear “the Glue Guy or Gal” brought up. Maybe because it doesn’t have the same appeal as “the MVP”, the same game-changing tenor of “the go to” or the same get-out-of-your-seat excitement as the “playmaker”. Although many of these labels are awarded because of incredible statistical performance, stats aren’t everything. Listen to any NBA or NFL broadcast, and I can guarantee you that you will hear the phrase “that won’t show up in the stat sheet”. Many of the game changing/momentum shifting plays in Water Polo, or any team sport, are often made outside of everyday statistics. THis looks like an expertly tipped pass that leads to an eventual steal, a perfectly executed drop that results in a shot clock violation, a hands-up defense that leaves no other option for the offending player than to dump the ball in the corner of the pool or take an impossible shot. 

Throughout Middle and High School, our coach never let us keep statistics in Club season. He thought keeping stats was something that too many of us were focused on. He found that players often cared more about checking the stat sheet at the end of the game to compare against our friends; namely who scored the most goals. Individual stats don’t matter nearly as much in a team sport. You can put up a triple double and your team may still lose. You can have the greatest season in the team’s history, and still have no rings. Statistics don’t show the full impact a player has on the team; they merely show a snippet of the game. 

Coach Bryan Lynton, the ODP National Technical Director, echoed the same sentiment when saying that “[A Glue Guy or Gal] is a pest on defense and doesn’t worry about how many goals he scores or how much he plays.”  

A recent example has come to light in the past week relating to the basketball world. Bradley Beal is a two-time all star and won rookie of the year in 2013. He dropped back to back 50 burgers, yet the team lost. Two nights, two statistically phenomenal games: they both ended in the loss column. He was not found on the sideline smiling and high fiving fans and teammates, he looked pissed off and disappointed. This is because he knew individual stats didn’t matter, only winning mattered. If you looked at the stats alone, you would assume his team won. They just don’t give the full picture. 

There are some differing opinions when it comes to where a Glue Guy or Gal comes from. Coach Lynton said “If you pay attention to your athletes and develop relationships with them, you will most surely spot an athlete that can fill the role and gladly do it.  I have coached teams that had a glue guy already performing the role, which is great, it is way less formalized and feels organic.” This is an interesting point because coach Lynton addresses both sides of the coin in that while ‘Glue’ players can be developed and worked on, there are some individuals who have this innate nature about them already.

Personally, I believe that someone either has that gene in them, or they don’t. The idea of creating and helping to craft a glue player is certainly conceivable in theory, given that they play an integral role on the team. THough, I would argue that the position is less likely to be filled and embraced by someone that is doing it because it was asked of them, as opposed to that person who already has those natural tendencies. If someone is already internally driven to get up early, put in the extra reps, and do whatever it takes to get the job done, they will be lightyears ahead of the individual who needs to have those personal qualities coaxed from them. 

Whether looking at the ‘Glue’ player role through the lens of either Coach Everist or Lynton, Googling the definition, or evaluating the players around you, you will begin to realize that ‘Glue’ players are essential to the growth and greatness of any team. College coaches look at a wide array of traits when looking for the next great player to help them level their team up, including the individuals they identify as the potential glue to keep the whole operation together. 

Below are the full quotes from both Coach Everist and Coach Lynton, who we owe a huge shoutout to for taking the time to sit down and give us their take on this topic.

Coach Everist:

“First these types of players are so important to a team. You can’t win without talent but you sure as hell can lose with it and it is these “Glue Guys” that make the difference.

I use the term “Windows and Floors” a lot with my team. It is something my parents said to me a lot growing up. It meant essentially not being too big for any job. If something needs to be done do it. Glue guys live this. They don’t need to be told what to do, they “Find Work”. 

These players bring juice to practice, they compete, they grind and they find ways to keep the group moving in the right direction without being seen. 

If I look back on the teams I have coached, guys like Adam Haley, Frank Reynolds, Vassilis Tzavaras, Marin Balarin, Mike Sample, Charlie Steffens, were “glue guys”. They brought a certain energy to the team that didn’t show up in a scorebook. They did the little things in and out of the pool that brought players together. They see problems coming and they find ways to head them off. 

They are hard to find but when you get one you know it.”

Coach Lynton:

“First of all the glue guy is the identity of your team and the culture of your program.  I believe this role is ever changing, but is present in every successful team and program.  I also believe it is not gender specific, as it is the coaches job to teach this roll, especially at the high school level.  As a coach, you can’t just ‘hope’ that someone will show up each year and fill the position.  

That brings up the next point, you have to teach an athlete how to do this.  Not sure how to do that? There are countless examples in professional sports (reference the Shane Battier article).  As I mentioned, its a position on the team often overlooked by coaches. Most coaches will train a goalkeeper, center forward, defender, etc., but uncommonly do the train an athlete to be the glue guy. If you pay attention to your athletes and develop relationships with them, you will most surely spot an athlete that can fill the role and gladly do it.  I have coached teams that had a glue guy already performing the role, which is great, it is way less formalized and feels organic.  

There are many intangible characteristics that the elite glue guy possesses; unselfish, play any role/ position willingly, they have defensive tenacity, the get the team pumped, the high-5er, the hugger, the athlete that never quits and pushes him or herself every session, and lastly, they enjoy making the play that leads to something great.  My ideal glue guy keeps the team focused with a ‘what’s next’ mentality during tough times. He’s a pest on defense and doesn’t worry about how many goals he scores how much he plays. Then two opposites in verbalness, they can be the quietest kid on the team or the biggest trash talker in the pool, doesn’t matter if they get the job done.”

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