There is No “I” in Team: The Importance of Teamwork and Your Commitment to the Team

I came across this photo recently and couldn’t stop laughing because it is so true. I wish I knew who to really give credit for this creativity (there are many who seem to want credit for it):

Paddlechica_I in Team

But, what does this really mean? It’s easy to laugh at, but not as easy to articulate, nor as easy to convey to your fellow paddlers.

I have been at training camp for the US National Team for the past week and was recently out on the OC2 with Holly, an awesome fellow paddler from Portland. I started thinking about my stroke and I started messing around with my power. In doing so, I got frustrated with myself because I still want to revert back into the old habits that my Team USA coaches are trying to break me of. My body wants to do what it is most accustomed to, what is locked into its muscle memory, and my mind is doing its best to convince me that is what is most powerful. So, as I was working on sitting up tall, keeping my top hand from dropping, and keeping my top hand away from my head, I felt funky, like I wasn’t really getting a strong stroke in. And then it hit me. It’s not all about me. There is no “I” in “team.”


Team USA Senior A Women at training camp in Melbourne, FL. Photo: Rachel Belino

Dragon boating is TEAM sport. The goal of the team is to blend as much as possible so that the team can function as one powerful unit. If one person is doing a vastly different stroke, it can easily mess up those paddling around him or her. Consider a paddler who allows his or her paddle to go past the hip. The paddler in the seat behind will have a heck of a time trying to keep the timing if the paddler ahead is late to pull out. And, in turn, this trouble spot will trickle on down the boat, which will cost the team in the long run.

So, how does this relate to what I was playing around with on the OC? Well, when I am working on keeping my top hand in the proper place and sitting up tall, I am doing it not only for myself but for the TEAM. I am doing it to avoid injuries to myself and I am doing it to blend in with the TEAM. I may not yet feel as powerful using this stroke technique because it is somewhat new to me, but with a lot of practice and patience the power will manifest itself. There is no “I” in team. I am not paddling OC1 races. I am paddling a dragon boat. I am paddling with 19 other paddlers. My job is to be a part of the team. There is no “I” in team.

And then I started thinking about various difficult individuals I have coached along the way. People with excuses like, “That’s just the way I paddle” or “I paddle better like that.” People that I have truly tried to help with their technique and then given up and mentally deemed them relatively “uncoachable” because they are unwilling to make changes for the betterment of the team. They are consistently having those “I” moments and not inclined to have any “we” moments. Their focus is on themselves.

When an individual only has a commitment to himself or herself, he or she becomes a liability to the team. It takes 20 paddlers to move the boat. A paddler who thinks he or she is above this teamwork does not understand team dynamics nor how toxic an ego-centric individual can be.

So, the next time your coach gives you a critique of your stroke technique, say “thank you” and work on making the changes. Don’t give excuses. Your coach is not doing it to torture you. He or she is helping you be a part of a bigger and better thing called THE TEAM. And that team relies on all 20+ paddlers to have a solid, unwavering commitment to make the team better by having a belief in each other, for each other and always WE over me.

In the words of Mia Hamm, “I am a member of a team, and I rely on the team. I defer to it and sacrifice for it because the team, not the individual, is the ultimate champion.”

So, don’t be the “I” in the a-hole. Make a commitment to your team.

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2 Discussion to this post

  1. maralmo says:

    This article is right on! Each team is only as good as the worst paddler (physical, mental and attitude). But attitude towards each other, the sport and oneself, I count as #1. The only time I should be brought up is when I want to improve, reach a personal goal, otherwise it is always about us.

  2. Gerri says:

    Thank you. Whenever you make a comment to any of us it always applies to all of us. I think about what you are telling someone else then I check to see if i am doing it correctly.

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