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Balance Solidarity and Individuality

The best coaches balance solidarity and individuality. On one hand, they do a great job instilling a team-first attitude within their players. This is very important for obvious reasons. In order for a team to succeed, everyone on the team must completely buy into the team’s goals, culture, and system. When players care more about the team than their own personal agenda, great things happen.

Perhaps the best way to increase solidarity within a team is to inspire players to be a part of something greater than themselves. It doesn’t always feel good to swallow your pride, but once players discover the joy and love of being a part of something greater than themselves, they become much more willing to sacrifice their selfish desires and put the team first. When this happens, they begin priding themselves more on their team success than on their individual success.

However, there is only so much solidarity athletes can handle. They can’t suppress their ego forever. At some point, athletes want to feel a sense of personal accomplishment and acknowledgement. This is why it’s a mistake for coaches to take solidarity and a team-first attitude too far. If the team is really the only thing that matters, then players can start to feel like a cog in a machine. They may start to think that they are replaceable and their contributions don’t matter that much. No player likes to feel this way. Even if players keep winning championships, they can eventually lose motivation and burn out if they don’t receive enough individual acknowledgement and respect. A great example of this is Tom Brady and the Patriots. After years of putting his ego to the side for the sake of the team, Tom Brady eventually craved the respect that he thought he deserved. This is one of the main reasons why he left the Patriots and their head coach, Bill Belichick, who is famous for suppressing the individuality of his players for the sake of the team.

This is why it’s important to balance solidarity with individuality. Coaches need to allow their players not only to shine as individuals but also to express themselves as individuals. Players want to feel good not just about their team but about themselves. Players want to play for these kinds of coaches because they know they’ll get the best of both worlds. They’ll get the satisfaction of both team and individual success. If you suppress a player’s individuality, you also suppress part their motivation to play, and this means less motivation to put towards team goals. But of course, if you take individuality too far, the team as a whole suffers. Balance is key. You have to allow players to shine and acknowledge their personal success, but not too much, or else their success can get to their heads and they may start caring more about themselves than the team. By balancing solidarity and individuality, you maximize both motivation and teamwork within your players, and minimize their selfishness and laziness.

There’s also the issue of fairness. For example, in totalitarian governments, when collectivism is taken too far, the rights of the individual can be trampled on. Dictators of the past have often taken away the private property of individuals for the sake of “solidarity.” But true solidarity respects the rights of individuals. This is relevant to sports because sometimes coaches can treat individual players unfairly for the sake to the team as a whole. For example, a coach may decide to play freshman over seniors, even though the seniors are better and more deserving than the freshmen. The coach may do this to help build for the future. You can argue whether or not this is fair. I personally think it’s not fair for the seniors who worked hard to earn playing time. They shouldn’t have to “put their ego to the side” to help next year’s team.

Furthermore, this type of unfairness for the sake of solidarity isn’t sustainable. In the example I used above, the senior players will most likely lose trust for their coach and give less commitment to the team. Also, even the freshmen who gain undeserved playing time can lose trust in their coach because they may fear that their coach will do the same thing to them once they’re seniors. This way of coaching may have short-term benefits, but in the long run, it doesn’t work out. The best, most respected coaches are always fair and respect the individual rights of their players while striving towards solidarity. Players will buy into their team most when they know they will always be treated fairly.

As a coach, you need to find practical ways to balance solidarity and individuality within your team. Most importantly, you need to have sense of where the needle is. If you think your team needs more solidarity, you need to do a better job instilling a team-first attitude within your players. If you think your team needs more individuality, you need to do a better job allowing your players to shine and be themselves. There are many little things you can do every day to help move the needle to the middle. These daily actions and messages can make a big difference in the long run! Think about your specific situation to determine what specific things you can do to improve your team’s culture.

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