We’re all familiar with this concept. But do we understand what it really means? In team sports, most of the team members are going to be more heavily influenced by the worst players on the team than they are by the best. I’m not talking from a talent perspective but rather from a commitment perspective. When athletes and coaches are all dedicated to the same goals, to both self- and group-improvement – when everyone is rowing in the same direction – this type of team culture makes the commitment to the tasks a bit easier.
But, when there are outliers who tend to de-focus the group due to negativity or being the class clown, what have you, then those negative feelings become infectious. Lack of enthusiasm by one team member can spread like wildfire. Despite team captains trying to buoy morale, those who act as anchors are unfortunately more influential. Those choosing to spread negativity across a team will more greatly impact the progress and success of that team than either the coaches or team leaders.
This is because in large part the ability to improve is influenced with whom you surround yourself.
Again, this isn’t about who is the best or worst player on a team (or within any group situation). The worst player can be the most positive and bring the most enthusiasm to the team. The star of the team could be negative or alienating to the other players. Enthusiasm spreads, but apathy or negativity kills momentum.
When we first try a sport, we improve quickly and relatively easily. It’s new, exciting and fun, and our learning curve looks like a hockey stick so rapid improvement follows. Until it doesn’t. Then, we start having to work harder and harder to continue improving. The newness wears off and what was once considered fun is now a grind. Athletes may enjoy competing or enjoy the results of all the hard work and dedication, but serious training is not fun. Showing up to a workout that going into you already know will require quite a bit of discomfort sucks the fun right out of it. Misery loves company, so experiencing the challenges and discomforts of training with others makes showing up more palatable. And when everyone, to a teammate, is positive and enthusiastic, well that makes everyone motivated to tackle the hard work. It is when you are trying to motivate yourself that the negativity of others can quickly bring us down – because we are already predisposed, through direct and repeated experience, to flinch away from the deep dedication improvement requires.
Those who help motivate a group or bring it down don’t even have to vocalize their enthusiasm or negativity. Simply looking at how athletes carry themselves will impact your frame of mind. Back in my swimming days, watching teammates get psyched up for their events and swim with all their heart most definitely had a positive impact on my own performances. Likewise, in situations where most of us simply wanted an easy workout, our body language showed what none of us stated. And, if only one teammate sighed in exasperation for what we knew was coming … well, let’s just say I’m surprised I’ve never read about a mutiny on a pool deck!
If you’re in a team sport, or if you regularly train and/or compete with others, be cognizant of the power and influence you have over them and they over you. If you would rather be sleeping than jumping into a cold pool at 5am, guess what? The majority of those around you feel the same! Remember this. And, instead of complaining, show some positivity and levity. Have a smile on your face, think of something positive to say, and dive in with some vigor. Others will follow suit. Same goes for group rides or runs, or team-based performances like in bike races. Showing and sharing common purpose elevates results.
When you think of your own training and racing situations, take stock on with whom you surround yourself. Is your team (or your tribe) nurturing or negative? Is the group’s commitment full or half-ass? How does everyone’s attitudes impact your own? How does your attitude impact everyone else’s? How do you honor yourself and your team, and the culture you all are trying to build and keep?
These are all important questions to answer honestly. The answers to them will help you better understand and define the type of cultures the groups in which you find yourself are trying to cultivate. As athletes, we dedicate too much of ourselves to our pursuits to allow for someone else to pull us down or for us to pull others down. Help build others up and they in turn will return the favor. Being more mindful of all this will help ensure you’re getting more out of your training and competitions than what you’re putting into them.
And in the end you will all win.