Summer is sadly slipping away. The days are getting shorter, the cicadas are making a lot of noise and there's even crisper air in the evening.

Another clear sign is that the fields of high schools and colleges are full of football, soccer and field hockey players and cross-country runners as preseason training camps get under way. It's a time of year I recall with gratitude and some reflection.

Looking back, my days on the fields and courts of both high school and college were my best. Bruce Springsteen would undoubtedly call them "Glory Days," so I'll skip the stories.

Individual sports require all the discipline, commitment, dedication and grueling hard work that team sports do. But I always felt blessed to have played team sports for the simple reason that they made me part of a team.

The first thing I was ever told about being on a team was the time-honored adage that "there is no "i" in team."

Being on a team was something bigger than any of us players. We learned to commit to each other, to always put our team first and, if we were in leadership positions, to adopt the "servant-leader" approach. We learned that we won -- or lost -- as a team.

That focus on team was one of life's great lessons, one that extended far beyond our playing days.

We learned that we had to commit to each other, to "the process" and the program, and to trust our teammates to do the same. When every person was doing their job well and fulfilling their role, no matter how big or small, the team was successful.

Teamwork was the most obvious skill we learned. It also had some of the most long-lasting impacts. The ability to work hard with others, even those with whom you didn't necessarily love working, is as valuable in the workplace as it was on the playing field.

We learned to count on each other and to push each other. My fondest memories are of Ken Long waking me up before dawn to go running. I hated it at the time, but I realized how valuable his pushing me in the offseason meant once we began to play for keeps.

But there was so much more.

Playing through multiple seasons, as I did, required a great deal of dedication and commitment. That commitment required discipline.

Self-discipline, I know, kept me out of a lot of trouble I'd have otherwise enjoyed getting into. That's not to say I didn't find some trouble, but assuredly there would have been more had it not been for the sport and the team. I know the same has been true for my sons.

Team sports taught that it really mattered whether you won or lost. They kept score for a reason.

The "thrill of victory and the agony of defeat" were always before us. In these days of "politically correct" youth sports, with no scoring and no cheering, it's important to remember that in the rest of life they do keep score. We were blessed to grow up with that reality.

We found out how not to be coldly realistic about winning and losing, though. We realized we weren't going to win every game. Winning with humility and losing with grace were important to our coaches and, therefore, to us. Many valuable lessons were learned when we were on the short end of the score.

In his award-winning book, "You win in the locker room first," former NFL head coach Mike Smith outlines the "7 C's" of building winning teams. He shows how to create a culture that is contagious, consistent, communicative, connected, caring and committed.

He focuses on commitment and stresses that you must "commit if you want commitment." Smith details how you cannot serve yourself and your team simultaneously, and that, ultimately, "a team feels the leader's commitment when the leader takes the time to serve them." He concludes that commitment is time. We make time for the things that really matter to us.

There are lots of headhunters searching for young talent in every field. They would do well to begin their searches in the locker rooms that house those student athletes now taking the field in the sweltering days of August.

There they'd find people who understand what it takes to win.

They'd meet young people who know how to play a role with dedication to excellence, who have learned how to support others and who possess commitment, an incredible work ethic, and an understanding of what it means to work for and create something bigger.

They'd find the makers of a great team.

PennLive Opinion contributor Charlie Gerow is the CEO of Quantum Communications in Harrisburg. His "Donkeys & Elephants" column appears weekly opposite progressive commentator Kirstin Snow.

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