The Glue Guy, or, Making the Most of Not Being the Best at Anything

Image by Maike und Björn Bröskamp from Pixabay

When I was a child, I played at least one sport every year. From kindergarten through the end of high school, I participated in some mix of gymnastics, baseball, basketball, flag football, lacrosse, and mountain biking.

Unfortunately, despite years of athletic training and experience, I never developed the competitive spirit needed to become great. I didn’t have the killer instinct. Why did I keep playing, then, if I consistently underperformed?

When I was young, I played because my father made me. But, when I got older, I played because I liked being on a team. Even if I was mediocre as a competitor, goofing off with teammates during practices and after games was always the best part. As an adopted only child, it was how I created my own family – I was able to find my own brothers (and occasional sisters).

Even though I was an objectively bad lacrosse goalie in high school, I did somehow become the team co-president and win a leadership honors. My relationships with the team didn’t end there – several of my high school teammates were best men in my wedding years later (as was a backyard wrestling friend from college). How in the world did this happen?

There’s a term that sports writers use to talk about the athletes who aren’t the best at what they do, but who still help the team succeed: “glue guy”. The glue guy won’t have impressive stats or the most in-demand trading cards. The glue guy is part encourager, part utility player, constant hustler, little-thing-doer, part equipment manager, comic relief, disciplinarian, transportation coordinator, etc (Stein, 2011).

What in the world does any of this have to do with a PhD program or higher education, or digital ethics? Here’s the connection – I’m not an amazing administrator or ethicist, or technological genius. I’m not a visionary leader. That much became apparent as I prepared for, executed, and discussed my community engagement project. However, I can still contribute to my university.

I can do “glue guy” things. Things like encouraging the people who are great at what they do, connecting like-minded people to leverage their collective effort and influence, performing the tedious work of planning meetings and reading and synthesizing literature and other resources, and other grunt work that takes not excellence but a willingness to withstand tedium.

Interestingly, the ISTE Standards for Education Leaders (2020) contemplates “glue guy” work. Perhaps this is because administrators are often flexible experts more than specialists in any one area such as technology or a specific field of study. In particular, the standards encourage supporting educators as they improve (Standard 3d), collaborating to build a shared vision of the use of technology (Standards 2a and 2b), encouraging the team (Standard 2d), ensuring the team has what it needs to be successful (Standard 4b), and trying to improve oneself all the while (Standard 5).

The process of preparing and administering the digital ethics audit was disappointing in that I do not feel I offered much in the way of useful advice or insight. However, researching what to do about it and finding other “glue guy” ways to help was edifying.


International Society for Technology in Education (2020). ISTE standards for education leaders. Retrieved on November 29, 2020, from

Stein, A (2011, December 2). The importance of a ‘glue guy’. USA Basketball. Retrieved on November 29, 2020, from

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