“I prefer team sports”
“You learn commitment by playing in a team”
“Individual sports are lonely”
We’ve heard it all! Swimming, running, cross fit, diving, gymnastics, cycling… is all apparently an “individual” sport. Apparently you train on your own. You race on your own. You’re just a loner! Ohhh how life must be sad for you and your individual sport! Apparently you don’t know what camaraderie is! Apparently you don’t know what it is like to commit to a team and be responsible to turn up every week! Apparently you don’t know that feeling of belonging to a team and sharing the successes and losses. Blah – give me a bucket!
Naturally, there are some differences between a team and individual sport. Largely, the way in which you compete. In a team you will have team tactics, whereas on your own you have your own game plan. But when you talk about the differences of commitment, camaraderie and sense of belonging – you make me want to scream!! At school I did both types of sports; I played netball, volleyball, rowing and badminton, whilst I also ran and swam “individually”. When I left school I joined an athletics club, and now for the past five years I have done triathlon. And one thing I have found very clear is regardless of your type of sport, every sport offers a sense of belonging. And from my recent experiences, a sense of belonging is the most important thing in sport.
I noticed how strong this sporting “sense of belonging” is after participating in the annual Portsea Swim Classic. During summer down at Portsea there is a daily morning swim at the Front Beach. What started as a few friends years ago has grown to 60+ people every morning at 8am. It’s an amazing mixture of people. There are dads with their daughters who are still at school. There are Ironmen champions both the triathlete and surf types. There are ex-national swimmers and new-to-swimming swimmers. Men, women, girls and boys. Some get in early and do a double point-to-point. Others are classified as “tea baggers” (the official and technical term) and just hop in a bob around for a bit. And then afterwards they all sit down for an hour and a half coffee! They “train” together, sharing tips and encouraging each other to do that bit extra and if someone doesn’t turn up they heckle them so they definitely turn up the next day – just like a “team” sport. The group then all enter the Portsea Swim Classic in late January. My dad, who was a runner as a child and not a swimmer, did his first Swim Classic last year. The conditions were perfect – a roaring current would have got an 80 year old granny floating on her back across the line. I was proud of Dad for earning his finishers t-shirt, after giving him one every year for about 14years from my time at the surf club!
This year was different though. Whilst the event is timed to go with the current, a strong westerly wind meant the top section of the water was going against you. The swim heads straight out from shore, then takes a left turn around the cliffs. This year the turn around the point was extremely choppy, and don’t forget about that westerly wind pushing against you. Dad was concerned and hesitated even starting. But the night before friends from the 8am swim group had given him a pair of bathers matching the rest of the group. Each morning dad had commented on their bathers and how he wanted a pair to feel a part of the group, and now he finally had a pair. With the power of the bathers, and to his credit, dad started the swim. And not only did he start, but he finished it in a very impressive time. Seeing him come out the water (when to be honest I was anxious he may have been coming out of a rescue boat), with the biggest smile on his face was a great moment. At the finish line he met all his 8am swim group buddies and celebrated his accomplishment. Some of the swimmers were the fastest in their age group, while others were at the back – but they were all excited to be there and complete the swim and congratulate one another.
It really struck home how much of a “team” they were when they insisted on getting a photo together in their matching bathers. Like 15 year old girls with a selfie stick they hunted for a camera and posed, tummies sucked in. And even afterwards they all went to the Portsea Pub for a celebratory drink! At the pub friends, wives and husbands of the swimmers committed to doing it next year – because you could tell they just want to be part of the team.
The magical part of this sense of belonging, is it is bigger than your own circle. This group are part of the bigger team that do the Portsea Swim Classic. Who are part of the bigger team that do the summer series of ocean swims. Who are part of a bigger team of just people who are swimmers. The circle is never ending and so is the sense of belonging. Yes sport offers health, fitness, endorphins, speed and whatever else you may be chasing. But nothing soothes the soul, brings a smile, or genuine pure happiness than a sense of belonging. So don’t tell me it’s an individual sport.