There’s an “I” in Team

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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.

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. 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. 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.

It’s not enough for a team to play well as a group. Yes, it’s encouraging to hear, “Your team is bonding so well”, but this isn’t enough. I have played on closely knit teams that lose every game. For a team to be truly great, each player must desire to be truly great. They must selfishly desire winning. They have to realize that passes, assists, and blocks don’t always cut it. These plays are meaningless unless someone steps up and scores the goal. The only way to do this is through sheer determination, grit, and skill.

A team cannot function properly unless each member of the team takes control of themselves physically and mentally. They must be willing to sacrifice themselves in order to achieve the win. There is fine line between playing selfishly and playing self-absorbed, but competing selfishly has one major benefit: personal greatness. There is a huge upside to making yourself great, so why not do it?  A team of athletes selfishly desiring to be great will end up making each other great in the process. So be selfish. Be an individual. Shoot for the highlight reel. Make the play.

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