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Is there an “I” in “team”? One coach’s view

Is there an “I” in “team”? One coach’s view
Is there an “I” in “team”? One coach’s view
Fair use, to illustrate article's context.

“There’s no ‘I’ in ‘team’!”

We have all heard it.

“There’s no ‘I’ in ‘team’!”

We have all repeated it.

“There’s no ‘I’ in ‘team’!”

But have we ever actually thought about it?

“There’s no ‘I’ in ‘team’!”

The statement has been concocted and favorably repeated because it makes sense and serves a good purpose: team building. On a certain level it makes sense and is very helpful.

Speaking as a soccer coach for youngsters, one thing because clear; there are players who need to work on basic skills and there are players with natural ability, who are otherwise very capable, who have much more experience having attended workshops, special training, etc.

The players who need to work on basic skills tend to be better team players because they know, consciously or not, that they need help and thus they use their team and allow their team to help them. These players need to be coached on those basic skills but not so much on teamwork.

The natural ability / more experience players have a hard time with teamwork because they can just about do it all by themselves. These are the players who can make the play from one end of the field or court all the way to the other all by themselves; they run faster than other players, they get around the other team and they hardly need to catch their breaths thereafter. These players must be coached differently as their skills are already in place; they need to be coached about staying within the parameters of their assigned position and about slowing down the action, using their team and allowing their team to help them and work with them.

“There’s no ‘I’ in ‘team’!”

When it comes to natural ability / more experience players being the “I” in “team”; thinking of one’s self as an “I” can be deleterious to the team as one player can, virtually singlehandedly, take over the game.

I once watched the coin toss before a game of very young kids (5-6 years old). Generally, the team captain (the child whose parents brought the snacks) is the one to call the coin; heads or tails. When the referee called for the team captains, one coach said that they have no captain but make decisions as a team.

Well, the game itself is about teamwork; what this coach was, wrongly, teaching the team is that there are no leaders.

This brings us to how the concept of “There’s no ‘I’ in ‘team’!” can, itself, be deleterious. The children should learn that there are, indeed, times to step up and be a leader, a captain, an “I” in “team.”

I suffer lower back pain every day due to a softball related injury. I went down to grab a groundball at second base and at the last second it popped up and bounced off of my forehead (don’t know why it’s called softball case, I gotta tell you; it wasn’t soft!!!). Well, skull bone’s connected to the… You know how it goes; I must have twisted at the waist as my back has not been the same since.

So, where was my team? Why was I injured but they were not? They were right there, mere feet away from me and, had I gotten my hands on the ball, would have been there to make the play along with me.

You see “I” sustained injury whilst the “team” did not. Had “I” caught it then the “team” would have come into play.

“There is an ‘I’ in ‘team’!”

This soccer season I finally came out with it and gave my team the “There is an ‘I’ in ‘team’!” speech.

There are moments during every game when it is just one player, the “I,” against the ball, against the puck, against another player. At those moments the “team” is providing support and being in place.

The game is peppered with fleeting moments, here and there, when it is just the “I,” the individual against the action, the play, another player. As soon as the ball, the puck, etc. is in control, as soon as the player is gone around, then the team comes into play for a pass, an assist, a block, etc.

A team is made up of individuals who function together according to a game plan. If each player does their own thing, then the game plan cannot be executed. The point of the “I” in “team” is not to do one’s own thing in disregard of the game plan. Rather, it is preparing for those moments, fleeting as they are, here and there, often mere seconds, when the individual finds themselves at the focus of the play.

It is at these moments when one, momentarily, carries the team on their back, as it were, when the player is one-on-one, mano-a-mano (or one against more than one, mano-a-manos) and must have prepared themselves to meet the challenge without hiding behind, or over relying on the team.

Prepare yourself to play team sports as if they were single player sports and your teamwork will flourish all the more; take the challenge, meet the challenge and defeat the challenge.

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