LPGA star Rose Zhang explains ‘lifelong’ skill sets that stem from being a good teammate

Editor’s note: Steve Borelli has been an editor and writer with USA TODAY since 1999 and after 10 years coaching his two sons’ baseball and basketball teams, he now writes a weekly column on sports parenting. The following piece centers around being a good teammate (especially when injured). For past columns, click here.

This is an important issue that can play a role in every young athlete’s athletic, social and character development. Being a strong and loyal teammate, no matter what the circumstances, is a quality that will help them as they grow through adolescence and into adulthood.

The issue of encouraging and reinforcing our kids to play and work as a team constantly comes up in my interviews. These interviews include a recent one I conducted with Pro Football Hall of Famer Calvin Johnson and one our video team did this week with 20-year-old LPGA sensation Rose Zhang.

In sports, as in life, teamwork goes well beyond showcasing your skills. We want our kids to learn to become strong teammates, and the case of being injured provides the perfect opportunity to do so.

Here are three points to remember to help you make the best of this situation:

The most important quality you can gain from youth sports is becoming a good teammate

Think about your own childhood sports career and what you remember most fondly. Was it how many games you won, goals you scored or home runs you hit? Or was it how much fun you had with your friends and teammates?

We all love to win, and as parents, we love to watch our kids win, but the thrill of competition alongside teammates with a common goal is what we enjoy most.

“I think there’s something to being in a team sport,” says Calvin Johnson, now a father of three young boys. “Not that you can’t be great at individual sports, nothing’s wrong with that, but team sports tell you a little bit more about yourself than I think you can learn from individual sports because you’re working with other people.”

OK, but your son or daughter can’t play because he or she is injured. Does that mean they are not part of the team anymore? Would he or she want their teammates to think that is the case?

If your teammates see you out there supporting them, they are more likely to cheer for you when you are playing once again. In the meantime, ask the coach (or, even better, have your son or daughter ask the coach) if there is something he or she can do to help out on game day. Maybe that means coaching a base in baseball (please wear a helmet and don’t do this on crutches) or keeping stats on the sidelines or in the dugout.

When I was in high school, I was mostly a pitcher, but I charted pitches or scored the game when I wasn’t playing. My teammates didn’t think of me as any less of a teammate, and they supported me as much as anyone else when I pitched.

When we’re sitting out for a game, we also can absorb the emotions and details of it without worrying about how we will do once we’re in there. We can see how happy scoring a goal or a basket makes our teammates feel but also how badly they hurt when they make a mistake. Go over and console that teammate and tell him or her that they will get another chance to do something positive for the team. Your son or daughter will, too.

Teamwork is something your child can carry throughout life

Our children are a reflection of us. My father-in-law once told me he judges other adults not so much by how they act but by how their children conduct themselves. We take pride as much in what kind of people our kids are, and what they become, as much as how good they are at athletics.

Take Rose Zhang. Her parents emigrated from China and raised her in Southern California. Her father, Haibin, tried out many sports with her (tennis, badminton, ping-pong) before she settled on golf. There were lessons in all of those sports. One, which my wife and I also promote, is that if you commit to a team or activity for a season, you stick with it for the whole season.

As Zhang rose to stardom as a national champion at Stanford and to the top of amateur golf and to winning her first LPGA event, she hasn’t lost sight of who she is.

“They instilled a lot of good culture in me growing up,” she says. “I’ve been able to become the person I am through them. And throughout the years, like no matter what, when I’m on the golf course, when I’m off the golf coursethey always valued character development and personal growth over score and achievement, which is why even if I do win, even if I played really well in this tournament, when I go back home, it’s the same thing.”

I reached out to Stanford to see if I could interview Zhang in April right after she won the Augusta National Women’s Amateur title. She declined at that time, saying she wanted to limit her media opportunities in the short term so she could focus on playing golf with her teammates at Stanford and being a student there.

“I still have to be a good daughter, I still have to be a good sister, good friend,” she says, “and I think that’s the biggest thing that they really kind of (have) driven me to think and do on a daily basis is just being grounded and making sure that I’m still a normal, sane person.”

If your son or daughter has already established himself or herself as a good teammate, think more about the life lesson you can reinforce here by showing up even when you’re not playing. When we start our careers, we don’t immediately become supervisors or managers. We build trust with our employers by showing, along with our skills, that we are good teammates.

Most elite athletes love the team aspect of sports

This statement might be the best way to explain this situation to your child. Ask him or her to look on the sidelines of professional games on TV. You often see an injured star standing there supporting teammates. Just in the early part of this NFL season, we’ve seen the Chiefs’ Travis Kelce and the Giants’ Saquon Barkley doing this.

If you watch players who play individualized sports, they often react most passionately when they are competing in team-based events such as the Presidents Cup (golf) or Davis Cup (tennis). Zhang recently expressed her zeal for joining U.S. teammates in the Solheim Cup. She’s playing this weekend in the Aramco Team Series in Hong Kong.

“That part of being a team, being a teammate, that’s what it’s really about,” says Zhang, who could have skipped playing at Stanford to become a professional. “I just think that that’s kind of what I really wanted when I went to college and when I felt like this is a stepping stone that I had to take for myself. I wanted to be part of something bigger than myself, and it’s always kind of a mindset that I had in the back of my head.”

As your kids advance in sporting careers, they likely will be on teams where they don’t play as much as they did when they were younger. Maybe they will be a pitcher or alternate, but they will love the camaraderie of being a teammate just the same.

Would you ask them to not show up at a game because they aren’t pitching or not playing a lot? They can always be a good teammate, whether they are playing or not.

“Even though I’m an individual who’s really competitive, I feel like there’s something about just being part of a team that really kind of tests you in all areas,” Zhang says. “If you need to be a leader, you need to step up … . If you need to be someone who can follow directions, you need to have that asset and skill. But also just the overall team bonding and making sure that you’re considerate of other people. These are all skill sets that are lifelong.”

In the short term, you can just tell your kids showing up at every game will make them better. It works for the pros.

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek