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Teamwork: How to be a great teammate in an individual sport
By:  Katie McMahon   (2013/09/09)

When you hear the word 'Team' or think of a 'Team Sport', I bet you the first thought that enters your head isn't cross country skiing. The vast majority of the events in our sport are individual, we spend a lot of time training alone and at the end of the day it is our own individual name on the results list. So, why worry about being on a team or being a good teammate? Well, what I have learned over the past couple of years being on the best ski team I know, is that being supported and in turn supporting your teammates is what makes all the hard work worthwhile.

Now I may be biased, but as far as teams go I could argue that Team XCOttawa knows where it's at. As you can imagine, being a team of very talented, hardworking and let's not forget competitive individuals can sometimes have it's challenges. I recently had a discussion with one of my teammates about whether it was normal to want to beat each other in every competitive situation, even intervals. Again, in my time coaching some younger athletes, the topic came up again: how competitive is too competitive and when do we keep a good team environment when we all want to come out on top?

Through discussions with teammates and reflection on what already works for us as a team, here are a few loose guidelines to keeping that team spirit whilst not backing down from achieving our best:

1) Know when to chill out. This is particularly important when it comes to those long slow distance workouts. These workouts are not a race. If you feel great that workout, good for you, awesome, your training is going well! Doesn't mean it makes you all of a sudden better than your teammates. On the other side of the coin, if the workout isn't going so well, you're tired, you feel like your teammates are pushing you out of zone, no worries, it happens to everyone! The 'result' at the end of a zone 1 workout isn't the be all and end all of your race career; so chill!

2) Know when to push each other.As I am sure my teammates can attest to, we are very good at pushing each other during our tough intensity workouts. This is one main reason why it is so awesome to be on a team with so many competitive people. I know that if I ease up for a second in those zone 5, all out intervals, my teammates will not blink twice in chasing me down and vice versa. We push each other to be the best we can be, it's one of the ways we help each other get faster.

3) Know when to check your ego at the door. As much as I am sure we would all like to believe that we should personally win all the time, the reality is we are all racing against very talented hard working individuals. On any given race you could win, but so could your competitor or teammate. It is important to celebrate your teammates' success just as much as it is important to celebrate your own. You are allowed to boast about your awesome race, just understand that you had a good one because you did great, not that your teammate or competitor didn't. Then, reversing the roles, if you have a bad race, doesn't mean you can't congratulate your teammate on their awesome race. Competition can often get emotional, good and bad, and in those times you want your teammates there to support you and genuinely care how your race went.

4) Know when to be selfish.At the end of the day, there is only room for one name beside that number on the results list. Let's face it, on that start line, our teammates are just as much our competitors as anyone else there. In fact, they can be our most challenging opponents because they know us and we know them inside and out. Personally, I think the challenge of racing my teammates makes the race that much more exciting and at the end of the day you have one of your best friends going through the same experience as you. So, be as selfish as you want (within reason i.e. I would never purposely trip or block a teammate during a race), because you know your teammate isn't going to let you beat them without a fight.

5) Get to know your teammates.This final tip to me, is the most fun. Over the years I have gotten to know all my teammates very well. I know what they like to eat, who goes to bed early, their senses of humour, and what makes each one of them smile. Like most young individual sport athletes, I came into this team environment trying to claw my way to the top and prove that I was somehow the best or the fastest. Now, I haven't lost that drive to succeed, but I have gained 14 like-individuals to share in this journey with. When you are racing your friends, it is easier to be happy for their success and to support them in their endeavours, just as it makes it reassuring to know that they will be waiting at the finish line for you with a giant hug.

So, from what I have learned so far over these past couple of years and to answer my teammates question; yes it is normal to feel competitive towards your teammates, as long as you respect each other. Having a successful ski career is the dream, like anything it comes with ups and downs, but having your teammates there with their arms around your shoulders is what makes the journey so worthwhile.

Go Team!

Team XCOttawa 2012-2013 at last year's Nationals

It's fun to goof off with your teammates :)

Sharing your dream with your teammates helps it not seem so scary.

Having competitive teammates is what keeps you on your toes.

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