Just because a team exists does not mean that teamwork is occurring. In fact, a sports team is unlikely to find success without effective teamwork.
This is true even for individually competitive sports like tennis, gymnastics and wrestling. Even if it’s all on you during the moments of competition, the knowledge that a unified team stands behind you and that you represent that team is empowering.
Teamwork doesn’t only take place on the field, either. In practice, a lack of teamwork can rear its ugly head in a variety of ways that can negatively impact future performance.
Reasons Teamwork is Important
When we think about why teamwork is important in sports, it can help to look at a scenario in which teamwork is clearly not present. If you are able to spot a problem and diagnose the missing element, the “sense of team” can be restored.
Let’s examine 6 of the most important elements of effective teamwork and why they matter.
Imagine a basketball team where there is no common goal. Each player has only a personal goal. For one player, it may be winning the upcoming game. For another, it may be winning the state championship. For yet another payer, the goal may simply be to score more points than their personal average.
If every player is in it for himself, the team will quickly dissolve. The first player may wonder why the second player is so stressed out about a championship that’s months down the road. The first two players may be frustrated with the third player being selfishly concerned with his own performance. The third player may get upset that he has to sacrifice his personal results to help the other two achieve their own goal. We see how quickly the unification disappears.
Instead, we want everyone to be on the same page with at least one team goal. Personal goals are equally as important, since each player must strive to be the best he can be. However, a team goal is the glue that bonds the players together by keeping everyone’s eyes on the same ball. Without a common goal, the team has no direction or focus.
Strength in Numbers
Obviously, a quarterback cannot play a game of football by himself. But when we say strength in numbers, we don’t just mean brute force and sheer size. More importantly, there is strength in the number and diversity of the team’s skills.
An effective team has the ability to combine a diverse set of skills. If one player is great at throwing the ball, he can serve his team not only by throwing his best but by helping other players improve their throwing technique. Similarly, a strong player with perfect form during a dead lift can help other players work out safely and effectively for a collectively stronger team. Another player might excel at organization, such as tracking and charting progress, so he can help his teammates by distributing blank forms of his record log.
There are endless talents and skills that players may have that can contribute to the base of knowledge, technique and strength of the whole team. Value these differences and combine them to make an unstoppable force.
Attitudes can spread like wildfire. A negative attitude can cause breakdowns in relationships and team morale. The team’s response to the negativity can make or break the moment. Remember that positive thinking can help build skills and even improve performance.
Imagine a player feels dejected and frustrated. She goes into the locker room before a game saying, “Why even bother? It’s not like we can beat that team, especially not after our complete failure last week.”
The other players have an individual and collective choice. They can respond in agreement with her frustration, but this will deflate the team’s sails. If enough players adopt the negative attitude, the team will likely perform poorly. This is a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy.
Alternatively, the team can counter her with a positive attitude. Once even one or two people chime in to say “We got this!” the inspiration can spread and drown out the negativity. The team may even collectively decide that instances of negative language are not allowed as part of their effort to foster a positive mindset.
A positive attitude is an absolute must for every team because it uplifts, inspires, motivates, and thus improves the odds of winning.
Motivation, put simply, is the desire to do something. It is highly correlated with a positive attitude, but it’s also built upon mutual respect for the other players.
A team or player that lacks motivation will be quick to give up. They will be uninterested in their performance and will fail to put a full effort into the game. If enough players are unmotivated, it’s easy for the rest of the team to feel their efforts are useless and also give up. Clearly, this is a situation we want to avoid.
On the positive side, a team-wide sense of motivation allows everyone to trudge through the pain together. Motivation can kick in when you feel backed into a corner because you know you can’t let the team down. This is where trust comes in. Players have to trust their teammates to be motivated. They have to believe their teammates are driven to perform.
Let’s look at trust a little more in depth. Trust isn’t limited to believing in the other players’ will to win.
Most athletes would agree that finding out a teammate is talking badly about them behind their back is a sure way to break trust. Trust can also be broken or damaged when one player doesn’t trust another’s competence or ability to perform. One of the worst offenses is blaming another player for a mistake instead of collectively accepting the error and vowing to work together for improvement. It’s even possible ruin trust unintentionally through poor communication and listening skills.
With a healthy sense of trust, players can rely on their teammates to push themselves to the max, to be respectful, and to avoid scapegoating and blaming.
Good Communication (and Listening !)
We’ve all had an innocent statement get taken out of context or misunderstood. We’ve all also felt the frustration of another person not listening to us. The breakdown of communication is a common but fatal flaw in any team environment.
Good communication requires practice. First and foremost, players must be accepting of mistakes in order to prevent burning bridges. With this mutual understanding that miscommunications can and will happen, the next step is to honestly and respectfully identify poor communication. This can be a simple, “I felt really hurt when you said I wasn’t working hard enough.” The other person must be willing to listen, so all of the players must agree that they will give time to those who want to address a communication block. Once the issue has been broached, the players must use interpersonal skills to resolve the issue.
This simplified communication system is a great start to ensuring the team can work together successfully. Without it, the walls between players build up, and the rest of the elements of cohesive teamwork suffer.
So why does teamwork matter?
Quite simply, teamwork matters because no man is an island unto himself. And you’ve probably noticed that each element is related to and dependent on the others. That means missing one element of effective teamwork can begin a domino fall that destroys other elements. Pretty soon, the teamwork is nonexistent.
It is certainly possible to have a “team” that has no common goals, a lack of appreciation for diverse skills, a sour attitude, a lack of motivation, an environment of distrust, and poor communication. But how successful would this kind of team be? The gears of the team would be rusted in place and no success could be found.
But with these 6 simple elements, teamwork oils the gears and the players can begin to work not as a random assortment of individuals but as a solitary, purpose-driven machine.
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