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Aerris Smith: 5 Teamwork Lessons from a Champion

Written By: Scott Cochran - Mar• 13•14


Wofford’s Aerris Smith at the Southern Conference Championship men’s basketball game, Asheville, NC, on March 10.


“I’m at my limit… there’s nothing left in the tank… I gave 100%, did my absolute best and have zero regrets.”

There are only a handful of people who can really own that statement. I mean really own it. On March 10Aerris Smith, a Wofford College basketball player, owned it.

Aerris is soft-spoken and extremely gentle off the court – not quite what you expect from a 6’8”, 240 lb. forward. His Southern Conference Championship post game interview shows another side of this gentle giant and captures the essence of what it means to leave it all on the floor. As I listened to him speak, I was struck by a number of lessons he taught us in his brief six-minute interview:

1) He played his role

Aerris, the only senior on the team, averaged nine minutes per game but he made every second count.  His stats will not cause anyone to do a double take but he was critical to the team’s success. A key rebound here, a critical tap in there… things that really make a difference. Coach Young knows he made a difference, his teammates know he made a difference… and that’s all that matters.

Lesson: Learn how you fit within your team and play that role selflessly. Don’t focus on how much playing time you get, focus on how much you can contribute during that playing time.

2) He praised his team

“I couldn’t ask for a better team.” Aerris focuses on the team’s performance not his own. When asked about his “two huge rebounds at the end of the game”, Aerris praises the support his team has provided through the season.

Lesson: Look for the good that your team does and give them credit for great outcomes. Rarely does an individual win the game in a team sport and the same goes for work teams. When your teammates know that you support and appreciate their contributions, their confidence grows along with their willingness to put it all on the line each and every day.

3) He didn’t advertise his pain

Until his interview, you probably didn’t know Aerris has been playing with excruciating knee pain. In fact, it’s so bad he had surgery yesterday and will miss the NCAA tournament. But he never complained, never made excuses, and never asked for special treatment. Instead of using his injury to stop working hard – a fair option given it’s the end of the season and he’s a senior – he found an alternative way to stay in game shape: swimming. He got up every morning to swim alone so that he could effectively play his role when his team needed him most (and a tip of the hat to Wofford’s coaching staff for instilling a strong work ethic in players).

Lesson: There’s a difference between not feeling well and being sick. If you’re truly sick, take care of yourself. If you just don’t feel well, suck it up and give it your all. Either way, there’s no reason to tell everyone how hurt, sick or incapacitated you are. It can sound like an excuse and you never want to make excuses.

4) His emotional outpouring at the end is authentic

No need to elaborate on this too much. He loves what he is doing, his team, his coach, his school… and that’s why he plays the way he does.

Lesson: Do what you love and do it with passion. Don’t be afraid to show emotion – both joy and sorrow. If you love something it hurts when you lose; it’s euphoric when you win.

5) He won

Aerris won before the first shot was taken by the way he played the game. It’s not always about the score; it’s about how you play the game (BUT winning is pretty awesome!).

Lesson: If it’s worth playing it’s worth playing hard. Really hard. Never, ever give it less than your best.

I’ve had the honor of knowing this young man for the last four years. His passion is the sign of a winner and symbolic of Mike Young’s entire team. Way to go Aerris Smith and thank you. You’ve set a standard that will be tough to match. We will certainly miss your presence on the court at the dance.

You may want to save the link below for the next time you think you’ve given your all. I know I will.

So Con Championship – Aerris Smith Post-Game Interview:

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