school of sport :with TIM MIDDLETON
GOLF and tennis are very much individual sports. It is each man or woman for himself or herself. Week in, week out, the top players travel the world, accompanied by their support team, and compete in the full glare of the public eye, on stage, alone.
The highpoints, the pinnacle, of each season in both sports are the four Majors, with massive money available to the winner — the winner of the Open Golf Championship in August won US$2,07 million while the winners of the recent US Open tennis championships won US$2,5 million. In recent weeks, however, golf has witnessed highly compelling competitions in the form of the Ryder Cup (for men) and the Solheim Cup (for women) between Europe and the US. At the same time, tennis has seen Europe compete against the Rest of the World at tennis in the Laver Cup. Individuals have had to learn to be part of a team.
It has taken some golfers some time to come to an understanding that these team events are special. Rory McIlroy, one of Europe’s golfing superstars, when he started out declared that “the Ryder Cup is not a huge goal of mine”; he added that “It’s an exhibition at the end of the day. In the big scheme of things it’s not that important an event for me.” Following the latest version of it, his sixth such time on the team, he was in tears after he failed to make any real contribution to the event. He is quoted as saying “I love being part of this team. I love my team-mates and I should have done more for them”.
He went on to say, “I have never really cried or got emotional over what I’ve done as an individual. I’ve said naive and stupid things in the past but this is by far the biggest tournament that we have in golf. I can’t wait to be a part of many, many more Ryder Cups and be team-mates with some of these great guys and try to win many more.” McIlroy declared most definitively that the Ryder Cup “Is by far the best experience in golf and I hope the boys and girls watching this today aspire to play in this and the Solheim Cup because there is nothing better than being part of a team.” Not a cent was on offer, yet it is described as the biggest event in their sport!
The American Brooks Koepka, in the lead-up to this, his third, Ryder Cup, shared how he found it extremely difficult to move from being an individual to being part of a team: “We’re just so individualised and everybody has their routine and different way of doing things… It’s tough, there are times where I’m like, I won my match. I did my job. What do you want from me? I know how to take responsibility for the shots I hit every week. Now, somebody else hit a bad shot and left me in a bad spot, and I know this hole is a loss. That’s new, and you have to change the way you think about things. You go from an individual sport every week to a team sport one week a year.” It is tough!
Zverev who recently won the Olympic tennis title as an individual summed up his experience in the Laver Cup by saying, “We [did] a lot of hard work for this victory throughout the whole week … The group of this team has been absolutely amazing. I think a lot of us came a lot closer together and to be honest I can’t wait for London next year.” He loved the team experienceb— bring it on!
Individual players now discover they love to play in a team; they miss out on so much by playing on their own in their individual sport. There is so much more energy, power, enjoyment, fulfilment, purpose, esteem even, in playing for a team. It is interesting to note too how much emphasis is now being put on the definition of team. The Laver Cup was contested between Team Europe and Team Rest of World. The US women’s soccer team does not call themselves USA but USWNT, standing for the United States Women’s National Team. The boxer Tyson Fury addresses himself as Team Fury. They want to emphasise the importance of ‘team’. It is Team This and Team That. Team Esteem.
The BBC website reported that “The Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits will be another full-blooded sporting contest with not a cent in prize money. Instead, a shedload of golfing glory is at stake.” That is not entirely true. It is not a shedload of glory that is at stake; it is the thrill of being part of a team. There are huge and vital lessons to be learned as well as benefits gained from this. Our children will be involved in teams throughout their whole life and need to learn the essential points of that at school. We need youngsters to come to an understanding of the value, the beauty, the joy of ‘team’ right from an early age. If they do not learn this while they are young, they will find it much harder when they are older — just ask Brooks Koepka. And there will be only one winner — Team Children!
Tim Middleton is a former international hockey player and headmaster, currently serving as the Executive Director of the Association of Trust Schools Email: firstname.lastname@example.org