Thursday, April 19, 2007

Project 2 - The Benefits Of Team Sports

Objective: Organize Your Speech

Chicago Bulls star Dennis Rodman once disagreed that team chemistry was the key to the Bulls' success. "Chemistry is a class you take in high school or college," he declared, "where you figure out two plus two is ten, or something."

Kindly excuse and overlook that slight scholastic aberration of Rodman’s and join me in descrying the real theme of the anecdote: Team Chemistry. That’s a small part of my topic for today – the benefits of team sports.

The reason I chose this topic is I am a Basketball Player myself and the game has taught me a lot more than just technicalities like dribbling my way to the basket and netting the ball. As Michael Jordan once put it and echoed my feelings – “Even when I'm old and grey, I won't be able to play it, but I'll still love the game.” I decided to take a broader view and talk about team sports.

That sports are beneficial for us has been a premise that has seldom been investigated. To enlist any of the advantages like physical fitness, discipline would be to state the obvious. So, let’s begin with the basic premise that everyone should ideally indulge in one form of sport or the other and not contest it.

Given that postulate, I feel that team sports are a better option as compared to individual sports. And we shall examine this statement from multiple perspectives like emotional, even spiritual and social.

A team sport is one that involves competition between teams of players e.g. Cricket whereas individual sports have individuals as participants e.g. Golf. Let us take up the emotional angle first, the values and the abstractions. In an individual sport, the sportsperson is responsible as much for his loss as for his success. When the stakes are high, and you win it almost implies you win as a person also but when you lose, you as a person have lost. But in a team sport, the blow of a loss is divided over the whole team and the joy of victory is multiplied by individual happiness. One man can never be responsible for either the victory or the loss of the team. Those who believe that do not understand a team sport at all. As former American Baseballer Michelle Smith put it, “I don't need to be the Number 1 on the team. This is what I train for day in and day out. I am the support player. If I need to hit, pitch, run, whatever, I will do it. If everything was going to be about me, I think I'd quit.”

A team sport teaches you optimization of skills, not maximization unlike individual sports where the individual is expected to be equipped with all the necessary skills. In a team you identify the key strengths of each member and tune your performance so that everybody does what he knows to do best. All 5 members on a basketball team can’t be star shooters; that would be a once in a blue moon occurrence. And all the members can’t be spectacular defenders. The key is for the defenders to defend to the best of their ability so that the shooters are free to shoot and net the points. That distributes the load of performance and each person performs to his optimum and the team achieves its maximum.

Los Angeles Lakers player Shaquille O'Neal (who now plays for Miami Heat) was frequently upbraided by his coach for his tardiness. One day, he had to take a drastic measure to avoid being late for yet another practice. And What? He appeared on the court wearing his shoes... and nothing else. While that is taking things too far, the point is, in a team sport, the whole team has to train together whereas in an individual sport you have the luxury of scheduling your practice sessions as per your convenience. It teaches you to be punctual and to organize yourself. You throw a whim and miss practice or turn up late and it is bound to reflect in the team’s performance. You learn to adjust, to prioritize.

You know how when birds migrate they fly in a ‘V’ formation? Not that the bird at the tip is any more capable than the others but they just choose a leader and follow his lead. When he is tired another bird replaces it and they move on. In a team sport too, you have a captain and he assigns you a role. And the captains change. You learn to manage as well as carry out roles assigned to you. American Footballer Jack Kemp said, “Every team requires unity. A team has to move as one unit, one force, with each person understanding and assisting the roles of his team mates.” And that says it well.

In 1983, the team representing India brought home the Cricket World Cup. Who would care to get that verbose, we just said India wins the World Cup and made heroes and legends out of the team members. In 2007, when the team representing India lost their way out of the world cup, we just said India out of the World Cup. It sounded terrible. It pricked the ears. And we wanted to blame someone…naturally the team that brought the calamity about. Being in a team sport involves belonging to a unit; you always represent a unit whose reputation you are somehow expected to uphold at all times…your school, your district, your Nation. It breeds a sense of belonging for that unit and nurtures patriotism for it. Although that may or may not be the case in an individual sport but it has potential to assume fanatic proportions in a team sport. That just multiplies the already existing excitement and thrill in playing the sport.

Coming to the spiritual point of view, you know how they always tell you to detach yourself from the experiences of life, from your personality, from your ego in order to attain enlightenment…that is easy with team sports. You are always a part of the team. You learn to identify yourself as just an instrument to achieve the goal of the team and not as an individual. And since neither the victory nor the loss is wholly your own, there is no question of getting egotistic about it.

Sania Mirza was once asked if she missed having fun and partying like people her age and felt like she was sacrificing something. She, in reply, said that there was always a price to pay for your ambitions. From the social point of view and as I said earlier, in individual sports you may be training alone most of the time and with progress in your career you may get kind of isolated from your peers. In team sports on the other hand, you can always have fun with your teammates. A sense of camaraderie exists and is even essential for the team’s success. When you go on tours, the journey itself becomes enjoyable with so many people to have fun with. Former American Footballer Jim Brown’s lucid statement speaks for how he felt about this - "When you need a friend, you can always count on your teammates."

Team sports also prepare you for certain high paying professions that elevate your social status these days - politics for one! With so many parties and coalitions in the fray today, gone are the days when politics was likened to Chess. It is now no less than a team sport…something like Rugby! Not actors but good team sportsmen should have automatic entries to politics, I feel.

On a more serious note, the software profession where team-work is a cardinal skill. Nobody realizes the importance of team-work more than we do. And team sports teach that too well.

Team sports unite and harmonize. When the whole society is disintegrating, we have people belonging to all faiths on the Indian Cricket team and they are united for a common goal – winning…together.

A final thought in the words of New York Knicks Coach Red Holzman, "On a good team there are no superstars. There are great players who show they are great players by being able to play with others as a team. They have the ability to be superstars, but if they fit into a good team, they make sacrifices, they do things necessary to help the team win. What the numbers are in salaries or statistics don't matter; how they play together does."

It’s like that Jack Johnson song - We are better when we are together!