Teams vs. Non-Teams

Fascinating Dynamics

Last week was my turn for morning duty outside the building. I was watching these two groups of 7/8 boys play football when my brain exploded!  I noticed the deeper dynamics of the games at hand.

I usually stand in front of the doors to have a good vantage point at all the potential antics. On the left is a patch of grass dominated by 7th grade boys in a fierce duel — two teams going at each other in a competitive game of touch football — full-on with positions, play-calling and raucous cheering when either side claims a small victory. They all start the day hot and sweaty after a fast and furious gridiron battle.

Teams Non-Teams
This is the middle school entrance to our building.

The right side is where mostly 8th grade boys toss the pigskin after they have wrestled it away from the early-bird 7th grade boys to whom it belongs. [The girls just hang out nearby, basically ignoring the whole bunch of them.] I wouldn’t call this a “game” by any stretch, although it gets a tad competitive when the football gets close enough to reach out and grab away from someone else. If either boy has to move even half a step, each will let it fall to the ground. Then, there is always the one-up-man-ship to see which side can throw over the heads of the other side. [I have to be vigilant not to get smacked in the head with a flying torpedo.]

So it was hugely fascinating the other day when I made the connection between Teams and Non-Teams. The 7th grade boys play as two Teams. The 8th grade boys play as individuals, in fact, what I would more accurately describe as a Non-Team. And I say Non-Team very intentionally because there is no hint or acknowledgement that any connection even remotely exists between competitors. It is merely a convenience to have someone downfield to retrieve your throw.

So we have Teams vs. Non-Teams.

All of us know from everyday athletic competitions how that usually turns out in the end. Teams tend to be more successful in the Win-Loss battle than Non-Teams.

The huge revelation to me that morning was how the teams were divided. It would be tempting to draw the line and separate the boys based on grade/popularity status/ethnicity or some other physical/emotional factor. Perhaps that is indeed how the divisions play out. But even more interesting to me as a teacher was the fact that these boys were self-grouped by academic ability. The Non-Teams are students who really struggle in the classroom. The Teams are those who work hard to excel.

Like I said… fascinating!

Teams [Strong Students] vs. Non-Teams [Struggling Students]

So I started thinking: Is it a Nature vs. Nurture kind-of-thing?

Are those boys a Team because they are strong students? Or are they strong students because they know how to be a Team?

And vice versa:

Are those boys a Non-Team because they are struggling students? Or are they struggling students because they don’t know how to be a Team?

I have played team sports for a good chunk of life since my 1st grade days. Teams of all shapes/sizes/varieties/styles/groups/levels/abilities… you name it. I’m a big believer that sports-done-well teach great lessons to young people. [There’s always a balance, though. Sports-done-well.]

What I learned as a kid was the same I passed onto my own children: If you want to be part of the team, then you have to be a strong student. School always comes first. I think their academic strength added positive leadership to their teammates.

So my own personal experience and that of my children makes me fall on the side that teamwork adds a hugely positive dimension to academic success. I believe the opposite is true also: Students who cannot function on a team seem to struggle more in school, and I suspect, in life.

So, does it all boil down to team sports? Absolutely not.

Teamwork is learned is a wide variety of settings and activities. Organized sports is simply one, coveted venue in our highly competitive American culture… popular primarily for the glitzy lure of wealth and fame.

Team skills thrive in orchestras and bands/choirs and drama programs/journalism and calculus clubs/martial arts and church groups. Everyone needs to learn how to work with people on teams, and in fact, employers identify it as a primary skill that new hires are lacking. Research backs up the notion that teamwork is vital to academic and career success as well as healthy living.

This makes the K-12 years so vital for students. We need to give them to opportunities to figure out how to collaborate [co-labor] with peers because they will be doing it for the rest of their lives. They need more than sports to teach them conflict resolution skills/overcoming adversity and challenge/perseverance and determination/give-and-take/compromise/empathy/sympathy/listening and communication.

I think Teams create strong students and strong students create Teams.
Let’s work as a team to achieve that goal together!