The Importance of Teammates in an Individual Sport (Coaches’ Corner #14)

admin Coaches' Corner

By Dylan Otruba, Coach, MV1team

Now that we’re through Regionals, our training is becoming a little bit different.

Some of you are enjoying being done with your biggest meet of the season, and tapering off of summer swimming as we move towards the fall. The rest of you are preparing for Provincials, and keeping up the pace of your training to make sure you have an awesome meet.

This is therefore an important time to be aware of the team element of swimming. Swimming is, by all appearances, an individual sport. Even relays are really just 4 individual events strung together rather than a true team competition. But that doesn’t mean that teamwork is unimportant to swimmers. The support of your teammates is vital to success in this sport.

Here are some roles and attitudes to think about, even if you aren’t going to Provincials, to make sure that you and your fellow Vikings are prepared to succeed.

Commit to team goals.

As an individual, you have an idea of what you want out of swimming. Hopefully, you even have well-defined goals that motivate you. Do you know the team’s mission and goals? What are you working toward as a team, or as a group? If this is unclear, you might want to bring this up with your coach and suggest a group meeting.

Once your coach and teammates have a clear vision, your job is to commit to it. This means the team goal needs to be as important to you as your individual goals. What do you need to do to help the team succeed? Make sure you put in enough effort to fulfill your role. If the goal is very important to you, it might require putting in extra time and energy.

Know your role.

What is your role? What do you contribute to the team? Do you attack each set, challenging your teammates to beat you? Do you lead the lane? Do you demonstrate a positive attitude?

There are several roles on a team, such as wallflowers, team leaders, good followers, counselors, social directors, motivators, team clowns. You might cleanly fit in one role or have parts of several.

Wallflowers are those swimmers who hang on the wall and find ways to skip out of sets. They are not committed to team or individual goals and tend to drain team energy. If this is your role, it is important for you to evaluate your participation and either decide to commit to swimming or to try another sport. Wallflowers are not good teammates.

Team leaders are the first in the water and the last out. They work hard, listen, and have a positive attitude. Qualities of leadership might be found in many swimmers, but the team leader tends to be one that others turn to and follow for direction. Keep in mind that leadership can be learned. If you would like to be a team leader, talk with your coach about the behaviors you need to demonstrate to best help your team.

Good followers are just as important as team leaders. Good followers pick up on and immediately follow the example, attitude, and decisions of the team leaders that help the team toward its goals. Team leaders do no good without followers.

Counselors help struggling team members, are the first ones there when swimmers are disappointed in their races, and help resolve conflict between team members.

Social directors plan ways for the team to get together and get to know each other better outside of practice and meet time.

Motivators have a lot of energy. They consistently encourage others, are incessantly optimistic, lead cheers, and show enthusiasm for swimming.

Team clowns make others laugh. Their sense of humor lightens the mood at practices and meets and makes it fun.

When you become aware of your role (or roles), you can evaluate how you contribute to or detract from the team. When you know how you contribute, the resulting sense of importance and belonging can help your performance.

Take one for the team.

Only four can swim on a relay. Have you ever missed the cut? If so, did you grumble and wish you had a weaker team? Or did you cheer on the four who made it and then vow to work a bit harder to beat them each practice so that next time it would be you?

A strong team is sometimes tough because you are not always on top, but it is a strong team that gets you to the top eventually. The competition within the team gives you daily race practice so that you swim faster at meets. Creating conflict and in-fighting due to dissatisfaction with your coach’s decisions on who gets what spot only ends up hurting you. When you have an attitude for the team, you end up making the entire team, including you, better.

Respect your teammates.

You do not have to like your teammates. You do not have to be best friends. In order to have a successful team, you do need to respect them. Respect means offering encouragement during practice sets and at meets, cheering them on, and otherwise helping them achieve their goals. It means focusing on the ways they are helping the team, and it means addressing the behavior (not the person) when changes need to happen. It means putting forth your best effort at all times and displaying a positive attitude, even when on a relay with teammates you don’t like.

Evaluate your attitude.

It’s a good idea to evaluate your attitude as a team member. Think about the legacy you want to leave behind. At some point you will graduate, move, or otherwise leave your team. How do you want to be remembered? What will your teammates say about you?

Think about whether or not they will likely remark about how you were always a hard worker, always positive and upbeat, an inspiration, someone whose impact is missed. Or if they might talk about how you were a wallflower, a slacker, a wimp, and only concerned with yourself.

If you were the fastest swimmer but a poor teammate, mention of your speed will likely be followed by mention of your negativity. Your greatest legacy is one based on how you helped your teammates. Are the team goals a priority? Do you show respect to your teammates? Do you have the qualities that could make you a coach’s favorite? Work now to develop a positive team attitude and leave behind a desirable legacy.

You might be one whose actions get your teammate to make a cut, and you might be one whose go-to attitude gets you to make a cut. Whatever the outcome, make sure your actions are what is best for the team, and you will end up better for it.