Playing for the Team

Posted: March 27, 2011 in Sports
Tags: , , , , , ,

Everybody remembers Darryl Sittler’s ten-point game.  Everybody remembers Kobe Bryant dropping 81 on the Toronto Raptors.  Everybody remembers Lionel Messi or Andrey Arshavin potting four against Arsenal and Liverpool respectively.

Everybody remembers the individual achievements, the moments where a single player seizes the spotlight and becomes larger than the game or the sport itself.

But look at those achievements listed above.  Which of them could have been accomplished without the aid of the player’s teammates.  Could Sittler have scored ten points?  Certainly not.  Would Kobe have got anywhere near 81?  Maybe if he was playing as himself in a videogame.  Would Messi and Arshavin, in a sport where goals are rarer than water in the desert, have scored four?  Please…

Any player will tell you that those moments pale in comparison to what one achieves as a team.  For instance, Sidney Crosby would be just as happy with the gold medal around his neck had it been someone else on Team Canada who had scored.  It’s what you achieve with others that matters, not just what you achieve on your own.

So, why do a lot of sports fans cheer for individual players and not teams?  Why do we see so many fans that will follow players to the ends of the earth, regardless of what team they play on?  I would need all the sand grains on Daytona Beach just to count how many people followed Manchester United for Cristiano Ronaldo or how many follow Barcelona just for Messi.

It would be ridiculous for fans not to have their favourite players, but it seems equally ridiculous for fans to cheer for players ahead of teams.

After all, players don’t win anything without their teammates.  I’d like to see the single player who could step onto the field/ice/court on their own and defeat a full strength team.  Hell, I’d even like to see that player that can play in any position without dropping their skill level in the slightest.  The Dutch experiment of Total Football in the ’70s is probably the closest we’ve ever seen, but that project was undermined by the fact that while all the players were good in all positions, none – except for maybe Johan Cruyff – were exceptional in any one in particular.  Contrast that with the Dutch team of 2010, with world-class specialists like Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder, and Robin van Persie.  The fluidity of their game might be a little behind that of the teams from the ’70s, but they are far ahead in terms of skill in individual positions which translates into a better team.

Furthermore, teams represent something more than just personal achievement.  They represent a certain ethos, a certain unification of the human spirit towards a singular purpose.  When one teammate fails, another picks them back up again.  When one teammate succeeds, the rest also succeed.  Together they forge towards a goal that is beyond any of their individual powers.  Through a season or a series of seasons, bonds are formed that cannot be broken.

And these bonds extend to the fans as well.  Fans have access to the life of a team to a much greater extent than they do the life of a player.  We see players when they’re playing and maybe in an interview afterwards, but the rest of the time they disappear into their own lives, of which the average sports fan sees very little.  Teams, on the other hand, bear their lives for all to see.  Their lives are played out in the league standings, the attendance figures, and the spirit of the fans themselves.  None of this can be hidden.

This brings me to one final point: without fans, a team is not truly a team.  The fans make up the heart and soul of a given team.  They motivate the players, keep the management honest, and pay to keep the team afloat through tickets.  They create the spirit of a team.  They give the players their nicknames and their reputations.  Look at a club like Manchester United.  They realize this, evidenced by their slogan, “We are United.”

When I cheer for my favourite team, I get something out of it.  I get a feeling that I belong to something greater than myself or any one player.  Players come and go, but the team always remains (unless you live in Winnipeg or Quebec City…).

When I cheer for a player, I don’t get that feeling.  I get the feeling that I am watching someone else’s achievements and that those achievements are solely theirs.  There is nothing for me to share, nothing that I can call even slightly my own.

So, the next time you find yourself cheering after your favourite player scores a goal, cheer because the team scored, not the player.  Cheer for being part of something greater than yourself.

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