Team sports is a whole new thing to me.
I mean, they made me play Netball and Hockey at school, but I was never part of a team. I just tolerated it for the length of a PE lesson until I could escape.
It wasn’t until I was 34 that I discovered Roller Derby, and it was a good while after that I really started to realise what being part of a team was about.
I’d been running for a while, and as a sport, unless you’re starting at the front of that race pen, it’s pretty uncompetitive. The only person who judges you is yourself. You’re also the only person relying on you. It’s fine if you can’t be bothered to get up and go for a run today, you’re not really letting anyone down. So you missed that sub 60 minute 10k by a few seconds, it doesn’t matter in the big scheme of things.
Learning to be part of a team for the first time came with its ups and downs, and it’s helped me learn a lot about myself and my motivations. This is a post that’s been rolling around in my head for a while. Being part of a team is hard, you have to balance your passion for the sport and the team with your personal feelings and drive. There are so many things that I’ve learned that have made me a better and more balanced person and I’m constantly seeking out ways to be better physically and mentally, not just for myself, but for my team. Here are a few of the things I’ve learned about being part of a team over the last couple of years.
It’s not all about you
Ever. It’s about the team.
When you play for a team you are part of something bigger than yourself. If your team wins a big game it matters not one jot who was actually on that track (or pitch, or whatever), it’s the team that won, and it’s the team that loses.
I had to learn not to read too much into decisions made before and during games. Even if I was a factor in a decision, it certainly wasn’t all about me, and whatever the reasons, it really doesn’t matter in the end. A team is a complicated organism made of many parts and what matters is how they all work together.
Attitude is everything
Everyone on your team would rather you had less skill and a better attitude. You might be the best player in the world, but if you make all the other people on your team feel like they’re the worst players in the world then you might as well not be there.
Negativity about your skills, reffing decisions or the other team can bring everyone down. As can constantly seeking reassurance about your performance.
I hope I’ve never made anyone feel awful, but dealing with my own neediness and learning to not rely on external validation was a long learning process. It’s also made a lot more balanced in the rest of my life. It’s fine to need support, it’s not fine to forget that other people need it too.
You don’t have to be the best
When you’re on a team, not everyone can be the best. For every super-star player there are a whole load of players in the background making them look good just by being there and doing their job.
For everything that you’re good at, there will be something else that you suck at. Don’t get hung up on the thing you suck at. Work on it and improve, but remember that being on a team is about how everyone’s strengths and weaknesses complement each other.
I’ve pretty much never been the best at anything my whole life, but I am super competitive, so it doesn’t stop me trying. Learning not to obsess about where exactly you fall on the skill level in your team is important. You have value or you wouldn’t be there.
Until I discovered Roller Derby I had a long history of quitting anything I wasn’t immediately good at (which is why I still can’t drive). Roller Derby taught me that perseverance and hard work counts for a lot, no matter how awesome you are, you can always be better. Keep trying to be better, even if you’re not the best.
Being a good team-mate is not the same as being a good friend
Team mates can be your friends, but they don’t have to be. Playing a team sport means working together with a range of people for the good of the team. As team mates you should be very clear about shared goals for the team, and you owe them your commitment and presence at practices and games.
A friend might take you out for ice cream or bring you wine after a break up, a team-mate might not even know that you have personal problems, but they’ll do everything they can to support you through a tough practice, whatever the reason. Team mates share the highs and lows of playing a sport, and it’s that shared passion for the sport that they have in common.
When I go to practice I’m there to learn and work. Sometimes people need to get their head in the right place and might not want to chat while kitting up. Some people in your team might become close friends, but it’s not a given. The support you can get in a team is a beautiful thing, but it’s important to remember that it doesn’t necessarily come packaged up with friendship.
If you fancy giving team sports a try, even if you’ve never played before, you could do worse than giving Roller Derby a go! Norfolk Roller Derby’s next Freshie course starts in July.