Updated: Apr 10, 2020
‘When a man stands alone, he stands in silence, when men stand together, it’s deafening!’ Unknown
Early in January, tennis fans were entertained by the Hopman Cup, and now as the Australian Open is at an end, one may shift attention to the upcoming Fed Cup and Davis Cup team events. Tennis, like golf, swimming and track may be considered individual sports, but increasing interest in the team events is taking hold, as some of the best come together to exhibit camaraderie in competition.
In my role as a sport psychology consultant, I tend to encourage team approach with autonomy in all individual and team sports. In an individual event, a player may be on the ‘performance stage’ without a teammate, but it’s important to have a team approach before and after play to ensure the player feels supported. Part of this team may include family members, coaches, a strength and conditioning trainer, athletic trainer/physiotherapist, and perhaps a sport psychologist. Encouraging open communication and developing these relationships around the player, are the foundation of successful campaigns.
The difference between individual sports and team-sports however, is that the individuals are playing for an outcome where they rarely have anyone to turn to in the decision making process during a match. In team sports and events, each player is involved with others in a dynamic process of working together towards a common goal. There are many benefits gained from team sports and encouraging youths to engage in team sports can develop a number of life lessons and social skills. Here are some of these skills :
Listening and communication skills between players and coaches are developed¹. Although in a business context, Covey (1989) highlights the importance of these skills ‘Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood.’ Individuals no longer rely solely on their own voice, but make decisions collaboratively and effectively. Developing effective ways of working towards shared goals requires respect for one another’s strengths, support and encouragement of team-mates, as well as an openness for players and coaches to share ideas. Bill Walsh a former coach of the San Francisco 49ers often solicited ideas and input from his players during and after games.
Team sports and events require patience, persistence and practice. It’s not about practicing alone, but showing up and working together to figure out team dynamics, best fits, and strategizing together. Individuals are taught the value of patience and persistence, when practice and effort are rewarded.
Team sports and events allow individuals to socialize and build camaraderie with others that they may compete against in other circumstances. For juniors these are essential life lessons that enable them to prosper in all environments as they develop through life – ‘a competitor is not necessarily your foe’.
Cultural barriers can be dismantled through team sport. Finding ways to adjust and work with others who may have different expressions, values and habits are essential life lessons.
Leadership skills are developed in team environments. Through mutual accountability, individuals develop responsibility and take ownership of their role, whilst advocating their ideas and soliciting others input.
Team environments are self-esteem boosters, and ego moderators. Some young athletes not previously exposed to group environments learn to recognise the strengths of others, whilst those who lack confidence develop self-esteem by a process of scaffolding through coach and peer relationships, positive reinforcement and appropriate constructive learning.
I leave you with a quote from Phil Jackson, President of New York Knicks, whose work as a coach and leader has centred on building successful teams.
‘The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team.’
Yukelson, D. (1997). Principles of effective team building interventions in sport: A direct services approach at Penn State University. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 9 (1).
Covey, S. (1989). The even habits of highly effective people. New York: Fireside.