There's no I in team... or is there?
I’m often asked if people should approach psychology differently, depending on if they’re involved in a team or an individual sport. The same question often pops up in the organisational psychology field too. Do we motivate the entrepreneur in the same way we do a group of employees in a company? This is one of those both yes and no answers. It depends on a variety of factors such as what assistance the athlete needs, what the sport is and what the goals are.
How often have you heard “there’s no I in team?” That’s just not true. A team is made up of a collection of Is. Of course, you need to address the individual if you’re working with a team. Different roles within teams can carry different responsibilities. The goalkeeper, the penalty taker and the team captain are often the first people meeting with a performance coach as they feel they carry more of the team’s aspirations on their shoulders.
A team works well, when individuals on the team do well. A collection of the best players doesn’t always make the best team. How often have a ‘good on paper team’ failed in their performance? Think of the England football team who consistently underperform. If teams don’t understand each other’s rhythms, or don’t have a cohesion, they will never do as well as they should. A team goal must be found, and shared and believed in by all. If that buy in isn’t there, it will never work as well as it should. If individual aspirations are prioritised more than the team goal, this is where the I in team damages the group. But, if the I in team is working toward the common goal, it can be very powerful.
However, if there’s a good dynamic within the team, they’ll also get great support off each other, which is something the athlete running around the track doesn’t have. Or do they? If you are a solo athlete, are you ever really alone? Think about it. You have a coach, maybe other athletes who train alongside you, perhaps a physiotherapist, the support of a mental skills practitioner perhaps, family and friends. All of those people influence how you perform. The big difference between individual and team sports is that there is nowhere to hide when it’s just you. If you make a mistake, it’s easy to see, which can cause feelings of anxiety, which can affect your attention and your game plan. There’s a spotlight on the individual that a team athlete rarely feels, and even if they do, they have others to deflect that light for them. You can’t bring on a substitute to do that breaststroke for you. It’s also tougher to motivate yourself if you are struggling with your training, especially if you train alone. It can very lonely. Team athletes are encouraged to be selfless and to cooperate in the interest of their teams. The individual athlete needs to be competitively ruthless and constantly striving for themselves. If you are involved in an individual sport, you need to be good at self-regulation and self-motivating. You need to have a strong focus. Research has shown that individual athletes usually benefit from training with others, as they enjoy it more and often, it increases effort in training which all lead to a better performance.
Remember, there is an I in team, and there’s a we in individual. Collectively, it all adds up to a more positive experience whether you’re a basketballer or a tennis player. Know your Is and your Whys and you’ll get the best out of yourself.