School of Sport: Good teams make good players

Tug of war may not exactly attract such large crowds that are found in soccer grounds around the world though it was an Olympic sport between 1900 and 1920.

THE names given to professional soccer teams are quite revealing. In the various Leagues in the UK there are obviously (and boringly) the many predictable cities, towns and uniteds. More interestingly, there are also wanderers, rovers and rangers; there are hotspurs, palaces and villas; there are forests, thistles and wednesdays; and let us not miss out the albions, Alexandras and argyles. In Zimbabwe’s top league currently, not to be outdone, we have imaginatively some pirates, chiefs, movers, minerals and diamonds but there is one united – however, in England there are fourteen cities and fifteen uniteds, with the uniteds from Manchester, Newcastle, West Ham and Sheffield all competing in the Premier League. There is a strong case to be called united.

Tug of war may not exactly attract such large crowds that are found in soccer grounds around the world though it was an Olympic sport between 1900 and 1920. A national newspaper here in Zimbabwe reported that at the start of March this year a national Tug of War tournament was held in Zvishavane, with Exide Batteries winning the 720kg section and Glow Petrol winning the 640kg section. However, what Tug of War perhaps emphasises most of all is that, for a team to be successful, everyone has to work together in unison, united in endeavour, timing and attitude. A team may not be the heaviest but can win; a team may not be the strongest but can still win.

The reason for this is that a successful Tug of War team must work together in unison. They may all be extremely strong but that is no guarantee of them winning. They may all be pulling very hard but if they are not doing so at the same time as everyone else and in the same direction as everyone else and with their feet firmly gripping the ground, then there is again no guarantee of them winning. The ‘driver’, caller or leader will stand beside his team telling them when to pull and when to hold, ensuring they all do so at the same time for maximum effect. They must all be united – not wandering, roving or ranging.

In short, it comes down to teamwork or, to use the modern terminology, to ‘collaboration’. A team in any sport may have brilliant players but if they are in the wrong position, are selfish in their game, ignore tactics, then the team will not necessarily be successful – and indeed the player will not advance as well as he could. We would all tend to think that good players will make a good team but that is incorrect.

 Instead, we need to realise and respect that it is in fact the other way round – good teams make good players, another mantra shared openly in New Zealand rugby. How is this so?

A good team player will improve as a player because he plays for the team. He will be of more benefit to the team if he plays for the team and his teammates, if he puts aside personal ambition and glory and rather endeavours to serve the whole team. When he plays for the team, then other players will in turn play for him and so he will be in a better position to improve. When he plays for the team, the team will be stronger, and that will allow him to develop, to flourish, to be open to try things, even if he may fail, as he knows he has the support and backing of the team. A team does not bicker among themselves; accordingly, they will tolerate mistakes and cover for them, which in turn will make that player want to do the same for his teammates.

The bottom line is this, a good team needs team players – and team players are better and more valuable players than selfish prima donnas. A good team player is one who listens to the coach and to the other players, who does not go out on a limb and do his own thing, for, as with Tug of War, the team is stronger when they pull and hold together. The coach’s priority must therefore be to develop the team more than players.

There is a danger that players become ‘hotspurs’ themselves as the definition of ‘hotspur’ is an “impetuous, rash or reckless person; a hothead”. Such players are no use in a team and are not good players. There is an equal danger that players become ‘wanderers’ or ‘rovers’ moving aimlessly around and getting in the way of others. They must rather ensure they are united.

There is an old saying that “United we stand, divided we fall”. It is no surprise that no professional teams call themselves divided. The most successful team will be Everyone United, as good teams produce good players. Good players are those that play for others. Work on producing a good team and good players will evolve. When we all agree on that, we will do sport better in Zimbabwe. United?

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