Teambuilding is important in business, but looking at the development experience, I’d have to say it’s essential in sport. It is also important to add right away that we should not think only about team sports, because no individual competitor can be successful alone without the support of a team of professionals around them. Sport shows results more quickly in terms of improvements, so it is crystal clear what works and what does not. In other words, if we think mistakenly about team cohesion in sport, the negative consequences come swiftly and severely.
The individual athlete and team cohesion
Interestingly, when we look at the issue of team cohesion, team sports are more tolerant of self-focused people being part of the team than individual sports are. Although it is very sport-dependent, we can now say that team-focused people are more likely to achieve real, lasting success in individual sports. Of course, this goes against the grain of people’s preconceptions, since these team-focused people can be insufficiently goal-oriented, at least in the traditional sense of the term, certainly not as much as self-focused athletes. Moreover, self-focused competitors possess qualities that the average person – sometimes even a professional with considerable experience – would think are essential to winning. These include, for example, an explosive determination, dynamism, and motivation, but also the will to win at all costs – that is, at any cost, through anything and everything – resolve, aggressiveness in the right sense, and strong and dominant performance. Self-focused people can only accept victory; failure is unacceptable to them. Are these qualities at all amenable to the life of an elite athlete? And then we haven’t even mentioned the most important one: they are the ones who can perform at their best in crises, in critical situations, or who can perform at their personal bests in those moments to succeed. Often in the most important situations, they can achieve a result that they will not be able to repeat ever again. What could be more important than this ability? Are you shocked when I say – and having watched several Olympic gold medal-winning athletes work through the years and compete at the Olympics, I can say this unequivocally – that they had almost none of these qualities? Certainly not predominantly, at least.
A team-focused individual sport
Because although it is true that twenty years ago, it was the self-focused athletes who were most successful and most able to reach the top, it is fair to say that the world has changed a lot in this respect in the last two decades. To name just the greatest athletes, at least a few of them: Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps, Rafael Nadal, all of them have team-focused personalities, even if the occasional interview may make us think otherwise. So, what is it that really makes an individual athlete successful? Perseverance, acceptance, and an abiding love of routine work. It’s also important that, although not in the same way as their self-focused counterparts, they are also goal-oriented. In fact, although they do not give up everything for a goal, nor do they burn all bridges around themselves to achieve a championship, they are the ones who can put in a huge amount of work for a goal over the long term, continuously. That is why it is not certain – although it is simply unbelievable to write about such successful people – that the people with the greatest abilities are the ones who can achieve truly world-beating success in the end. However, they are the ones who are not content to be hailed as the “next great hope”. They don’t stop working after their first successes; they don’t want to make money out of it or even a reputation. But they are right to do so, because a career built on hard, persistent work will bring both. And they are genuinely able to work as part of a team, to learn with humility and to look after their environment. This usually provides them with a balanced psychological state after a while, so that if they don’t let fame take them in a direction that is not their own, they will have an unshakeable self-confidence for the rest of their lives.
I think it’s pretty spectacular that individual sports are not exclusively for self-focused people. It is equally spectacular that team sports are not exclusively for people with a team focus.