How to Win the Name Game

The art of picking a team name that bolsters team spirit instead of busting it

Iva-Marie Palmer

| 3 min read

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Wendy Wunder hasn’t played softball in 40 years, but she’ll never forget her first team name: Lynch’s Drill, a local dental office that sponsored her softball team. Another team in Wunder’s league? Action Septic.

Such team names were typical of the times (early ‘80s, rural New Jersey). Luckily, today’s youth teams often have more say in the matter. 

Choosing a team name is an important part of the process, says Dr. Jenny Etnier, author of Coaching for the Love of the Game and co-chair of MOJO’s Academic Advisory Board. Kids who have a say feel more invested and connected to the team. “By allowing the athletes to select the team name, you are empowering them,” she says.

Plus, done right, it’s fun.

It’s not about you

While you, the coach, and other parents might be full of ideas for cool team names, this isn’t about your wish fulfillment (even if you had to play for a team with an embarrassing name).

“Remember, this isn’t the MLS, MLB, NFL or NCAA,” says Etnier. “This is youth sports. The name will only be with you for a season or a year. It’s not meant to inspire awe or fear or demand respect.” 

The purpose of a team name, says Etnier, is to help foster a sense of belonging and pride, says Etnier. 

Even if it’s completely silly. 

One kid, one vote

To make sure everyone feels heard, Etnier recommends a democratic process. “You want them to select a team name that they can get behind,” she says. Everyone gets a vote. And ideally, every kid should get to contribute an idea. 

Depending upon the age of the kids, you might need to provide some guidance — examples of past team names or fun names that you like as the coach. With the youngest kids, it’s easy to start with favorite colors, characters or animals.

Just know your role: You’re there to guide the process, not exert your authority. 

Two things to avoid

Democracy is great, but you don’t want a team name to be so inclusive that it’s too long and difficult to say. (“The Hufflepuff Purple Unicorns of Central City” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue.) 

Etnier warns that you should also avoid division. If you live in an area where the local teams are rivals — like Chivas USA and the LA Galaxy or the Blue Devils and the Tar Heels — kids will want to choose one or the other. Tread lightly here. “Your goal with the name is to bring the team together,” says Etnier — not to reinforce local conflict.

Welcome to the Tournament of Names

To settle the issue, Etnier suggests a “Tournament of Names.” Select two of the suggested team names (or three if you have an odd number) and have the team vote. Keep the top vote-getter as a winner. Then, pull out two more names and have the kids vote again. You’ll whittle the names down to half, and then can start round two. Pair up two of the winning names again and have the kids vote. Eventually you’ll get down to a runoff for the final team name — which will no doubt be one for the ages. Go Diamond Ninja Tigers! 

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