Throughout the Olympic experience it is interesting to watch the dynamic unfold between individual athletes and those belonging to teams as they rise or fall at these lofty heights. For an individual it seems more work and less play, whereas for a team the other way around. Mark Twain once wrote that “work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do and play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do”. So how does this play (no pun intended) out in terms of performance and success of individual versus teams?
Nature intended for people to co-exist and interact. So the idea of performing in an individual sport is almost counter intuitive to this. Despite the presence of coaches (assuming you are an Olympian) this can be a very lonely existence. Motivation comes from within, dedication and commitment is essential, all of which leads to a very singular focus on success. Yet when that gold comes, it can sometimes be anti climatic. Who do you share it with other than perhaps your coaches and family? But they don’t really know how you are feeling. You had to work so hard.
Within team sports however motivation comes both from within and from others and collaboration and support are the key drivers; dedication and commitment are essentially assumed. Even though the work is equally as hard as with individuals, there is an element of fun or play that supersedes this. Then when success is realized, there is a party feeling and a collective sense of joy; let’s celebrate and have fun. When teams are interviewed following successes they inevitably talk about how much fun they had.
Behavioral scientists Edward Deci and psychologists such as Mark Lepper and David Greene have long demonstrated that where work begins to feel more like play, productivity, innovation, commitment to the task all increase. Fun and play is more synonymous with a team setting and much less so for individual contributors.
Remember people want to be paid for work but fun is free.