I’m a member of an Obstacle Course race team called Soldiers of Fitness (after the company I own). Everyone on our team has their strengths and weaknesses. But we all must consider for ourselves what kind of person we want to be on that team and if it doesn’t bring positivity, what are we doing on the team? I think our team is awesome and we’re having a great time. But not all teams are created equal. As a coach, I remind myself of the points below when I’m coaching different personalities because some people respond well to sarcastic criticism and some people need to be shown in a slower and more constructive way. But I’ve spent time around a lot of teams and seen plenty of bad situations so I thought I would write out some thoughts on being a member of a team.
You’re standing in line ready for your race to start. A member of your team looks nervous to go. That’s normal. Butterflies are part of the process, especially when the race matters to you. But a member of your team has been struggling a bit lately, unsure of his/her running pace or grip strength. You have a lot to say about how they can improve. How do you respond?
The way you treat your team says a lot about you and a lot about the chemistry and likely success of your team. Here is how I think you should deal with this issue in any sport.
Step 1: Reassure them. There’s no point in trying to coach them minutes or hours before a race. They aren’t going to suddenly perfect their technique or become a more biomechanically efficient runner. But reassuring them means telling them, “You got this. Remember how hard we worked on X drill? You were doing great. You’re going to do great.” Yes, you could tell them they’re probably out of shape, nowhere near peak athletic performance and will likely trip and fall on a root and get passed by thousands of people because of their running technique. Well unless you’re on the podium yourself or a qualified coach, you can’t comment much on peak athletic performance at the time of the race. It doesn’t do them any good. What your team members need is to feel good about themselves and good about each other. A team should be like family with no dysfunctional younger brother/sister. Rise above.
Step 2: It’s not about you. Depending on your sport and objectives for the team (which you should all know clearly ahead of time), the race is about doing the best that the team can do. It’s not about you being in the spotlight or the center of attention. If you want that, you should make it clear at the start of the race that you are racing first for yourself (running your own pace) and then for the team (returning to motivate and encourage them to finish). If you’re in a sport that doesn’t allow for individual team performance, you must accept that you signed on for the team that you are on and you are going to support and encourage them no matter what. Plan to leave the team in the future for a more competitive team if you want (and realize that you might be the underdog on that new team), but -never- discourage and talk trash about the team that you are on. You might be a better athlete, but I can guarantee you nobody will think you’re a better person and that should matter to you.
Step 3: Focus on your own stuff. Have nothing nice to say? You know how the saying goes: don’t say anything at all. Focus on the things you know you need to work on. Don’t have anything to work on? Then you’re more of a beginner than you think you are because nobody, even the best in the world, thinks they have nothing to work on.
Step 4: Keep it to yourself. Yes, you might have thoughts about that team member who isn’t showing up on time or you think isn’t putting in the same effort. Well if you aren’t the coach who should be addressing that issue, keep it to yourself. The only thing gossip does is further divide a team. Remember you chose to be on that team and that means accepting everyone on it, or asking them to leave (if that’s even possible depending on the structure of your team). I think open communication in situations like this (with the person involved) is the best way to handle it.
If you are that person who is unsure of yourself, here are a couple of steps to follow:
Step 1: Reassure yourself. You’re about to see a pattern develop here in relation to the steps above. There’s no reason to get down on yourself on race day. There’s no reason to think about how good or bad you are. All you can do is perform at your absolute best based on where you’re at. You aren’t going to seriously make changes to your running or VO2 max on race day. It is what it is. There is always room for improvement but that’s not the focus of race day. Race day is the execution of your best practice and that’s what you focus on. Not the things you want to do better, but the things you can do well right now.
Step 2: It isn’t about you. You belong to a team and every person on the team is responsible for the outcome. If you’re running a race together you must work together to get through obstacles. The better the team work, the more efficient the race. If you’re running solo, then refer to step 1 – do your best and reassure yourself.
Step 3: Visualize. Imagine yourself in that race. Imagine the obstacle and getting through them without difficulty. Or think about your perfect running stride and how good it will feel to crush the race. That’s what you visualize, the perfect execution of practice. Don’t visualize anything negative, it doesn’t do you any good. Positive visualization is far more powerful.
Step 4: Keep it to yourself. The same rule applies. Don’t doubt yourself now and if you do (as most people do because it’s normal if you’re trying to win a race) don’t say it out loud. Talking about your doubts might put doubts in other people and their own performance and you don’t want to do that. You want everyone to think you are all awesome and will all do awesome. Even if you’re not, it’s race day and it’s time to do what you came to do the best way you can do it.
Outside of race day there are a few things to keep in mind. Going back to the original scenario but you’re in practice rather than on race day, consider hiring a coach for your team. A good coach can approach people and talk to them in such a way that inspires them. The team is expecting criticism. It’s also a bonus that the coach, who has spent countless hours studying your sport, probably knows more about it than you do. So instead of making things awkward or uncomfortable or risking sounding like a nag, let the coach do their job and find the right coach for your team.
So, let’s say you know what you’re doing, you’ve been involved for a while, and you know you can help. Well assuming you know enough about the persons bio-mechanical restrictions or motor control problems, there are different ways to speak to people. “Hey John! Put your hands under your shoulders when you do a push-up! Go all the way down,” may not have the same impact on someone as, “Hey John, look here. Do you see how I have my hands under my shoulders and I’m going all the way down? From here it looks like your hands are a bit wide and you’re stopping short.” In both scenarios, the same message was delivered, but depending on the person you are delivering it to, there’s going to be a different impact. There’s nothing wrong with looking out for your team if you’re going to look out for them, but do not ridicule them. And remember, if they need serious changes, that’s what the coach is for. You focus on being the best team member you can be and let the coach focus on nitpicking people if that’s what they think is best in that situation. The coach does impact the team but has less chance of breaking up the team dynamic. Sometimes a mean coach can bring the team together. “To hell with him. Come on guys, let’s show that dick what we’re made of.”
Above all else when you work in a team the goal is to stay together (if it’s not an individual team race), work together and encourage each other to do your best. Communicate well, but in such a way that is productive and motivating for the team. Dissention in a team is a cancer that will eat at the heart of the team and a team that doesn’t care about each other, won’t work as hard for each other. I don’t care what you might think, people will always work harder and perform better for people they care about.