Sporting WCA

Jake’s Take #3

Hall of fame basketball player and footwear icon Michael Jordan once said “There’s no “I” in team, but there’s an ‘I’ in win!”  Woah now. Hold the phone. Stop the press. These are strong words from MJ. Coming from arguably one of the greatest athletes of the twentieth century, it is surprising to hear such a selfish quote.

    At least, that was my initial reaction. For a long time, I was surrounded by an athletic world that condemned individualistic play and attitude. It was taboo for a team to applaud overly “selfish” play, much less accept it. The older I got, however, the more I began to notice something. Yes, team sports require a team effort, but the success of team boils down to individual play.

    Now before you blow this idea off, hear me out. In no way am I trying to throw shade on the importance of team play. There is nothing greater to watch than a sports team that is completely in tune; nothing more exciting than seeing teammates work off of each other. What I’m trying to say is that a team cannot function without its individuals. For most athletes, this is not a foreign or new concept. Most of us have lost count of the “time for people to step up” speeches we’ve heard over the years. Nevertheless, it is an important enough topic to be repeated.

    Whether you are aware or not, a large portion of team sports are almost exclusively individual. For me, the clearest example of this occurs in the game of hockey (I apologize for the bias). In every shift, hockey contains individual battles that can change a game. In these situation, individual talent and strength can be the difference between success and failure, regardless of what the rest of the team is doing. While clearly the case in hockey, this aspect of athletics holds true in other sports as well. Regardless of what game is being played, these small individual plays are extremely important.

    More often than not, these small individual plays come from a player’s mental strength rather than skill or physical ability. This may be the most important, and perhaps most individual aspect of sports. Mental toughness isn’t something that comes from team games, team practices, or team hangouts; it comes from you. The only person that can train you to become mentally focused and tough is yourself. Mental training requires personal discipline and responsibility, but it can be accomplished.  If an athlete can find mental strength within himself, he will benefit himself and his team.

    So back to the individuality of team sports. A team cannot function properly unless each member of the team takes control of themselves physically and mentally. This is why individual play is so important. If a team is made up of a group of athletes that are working both as a team and as individuals, success is more likely than failure.