I was over on The Triathlon Book (Paulo’s blog, which is probably one of the best resources on the sport out there), and I ran across this old post (click on the link). People are occasionally confused when I talk about “the team,” or “the squad,” or something that indicates a group environment. “But triathlon is an individual sport,” is the most common reply. For those of us that train together, triathlon has been a team endeavor for a long time. It is a team that trains together everyday here with Joel. I guess it gets into the idea of, as Paulo asks, what is an individual sport? Which then begs the question, what is a team sport? Or, probably more appropriately, what is a team?

People have no problems grasping the idea of a swim team, when relays constitute only a very small portion of every meet. And yes, in collegiate and high school racing, there are team points for meets, but the idea of team is certainly something that extends well beyond that. If you look at the most successful teams (which are often not thought of as teams. I’m talking about something like Steven Redgrave’s crews or the Danish lightweight crews from the late 90’s), it is often nothing more than a group of like-minded individuals. These are athletes (although the analogy applies to business and life in general) that come together for training. The concept of a team is defined by preparation, not by competition. Successful teams are those that train well together. Rarely do you see a group of highly talented individuals that come together simply for competition and do well. This was really highlighted in my mind by the recent failings of the Yankees. Huge payroll, huge talent, inferior results. And in each case, they were beaten by a team that out-teamed them.

Simply put, a collection of individuals will always underperform against a team. If you believe as I do, and I think Paulo does, and Joel does, that the best way to race well is to prepare well and to not expect to perform “above and beyond,” but rather to simply perform to expecations, then build a team for practice. Racing is just the execution of appropriate preparation. I don’t want to have to believe in exceptional performances. I want to believe in representative performances. So, given that, why is triathlon an individual sport? Because you compete individually? Or because you train individually? I would argue that if you truly believe triathlon (or any other sport) is an individual effort, it is because you believe in individual training. If you believe that cooperative training is the best way to achieve your potential, then triathlon is, like any other sport, a team sport that is executed by the individual.

A team is what you make of it. It is what you decide it is. Up here in Coach Joel country, we have a group that thinks a team is a group that commits to each other every day. Just because we toe the line separately (in some cases – many cases – not even in the same races), that doesn’t mean a thing. The team was defined by practice, not by the race.

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