You have a lot of alone time when you are a distance runner. When you are playing a singles tennis match it’s like being on an island. In golf, you play 18 holes and only interact with people a couple times. In track, you might warm-up by yourself and be the only person on your team in an event.
If you compete in individual sports you might not feel as connected as you would if you played volleyball, soccer, basketball, football or lacrosse.
Why? Because you probably don’t have team huddles. You aren’t as physically close to your teammates during competition. Your outcome is not as contingent on your teammates’ performance as it is in team sports. Therefore, you might not lean on each other as much or spend as much time together.
Maybe those are the reasons you gravitate towards individual sports. Perhaps you prefer the solitary nature of an individual sport and competing against yourself. That’s great. But perhaps you miss out on the community and connection that are built into team sports.
I used to run the 1,600 meter and 3,200 meter races in the same day. That’s 12 laps alone. As I ran slow circles I sometimes spotted my teammates having fun on the inside of the track. It seemed like I was missing out.
One year I was the only one from our school who qualified for the state track meet. So my coach and I drove to Omaha. That was an awkward and boring drive and nothing like my experience playing basketball.
In basketball, we were never separated. We huddled. Our lockers were one inch apart. We traveled together. We suffered each other’s missed free throws at the end of games. We also shared in each other’s successes and were beneficiaries of each other’s “hot hands.” There was no way to be disconnected.
10 Things You Can Do
Although there are team aspects in individual sports and individual aspects in team sports, you can see the difference in my two experiences. So here are ten ideas for creating community and feeling connected in individual sports:
1. Notice the times in your sport when it’s easy to be isolated and disconnected. Instead of indulging in separation, seek out connection. (For us introverts, this is like asking us to start a fire with two rocks.)
2. Learn where all your teammates are from and something about their hometowns.
3. Get close. You can’t really love your teammates until they annoy you. Love begins when you overlook, forgive and absorb someone’s shortcomings. There are riches in loving others that there is not in isolation. (This does not mean solitude is unimportant.)
4. Cherish and deepen positive relationships with your teammates. Laugh with them too.
5. Share in your teammates’ victories. If your teammate had their best round in golf or highest score on the vault, acknowledge it and be happy about it. (Even if they did better than you.)
6. Organize a party and invite all your teammates.
7. Share in your teammates’ defeats. If you won a tennis match or swim meet and your teammate did poorly, share in their experience. Empathy connects us.
8. Take a couple of your teammates to your hometown or visit their hometown.
9. Lead with vulnerability. We like it when our teammates are vulnerable with us, but we don’t like to be vulnerable. Be the one to take the first step.
10. Remember that your teammates who rub you the wrong way and seem the opposite of you can end up being great friends, if you let them.