Smells Like Team Spirit

Brows furrow in concentration. Chests heave heavily, rapidly.

You can practically see the exertion radiating off them. But with each new point they score, elation bubbles and spills forth as triumphant cheers. The sound amplifies throughout the entire court as the realization of the point sets in. Running towards each other, celebratory hands meet and claps resound. They shrug off their shrouds of exhaustion with a single-minded focus on victory. The crowd basks in this tension-filled atmosphere, as the euphoria of the short-lived victory fades and players steel themselves in anticipation to score the next point.

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I am sure that the concept of a team is not foreign to most of us. We have been exposed to it from the very first time we played ‘catching’ in primary school, to the numerous mandated counts of project work and of course, through the medium of team sports.  Whether or not you don, or dismissively deny the label of a ‘sporty person’, being in a team is an experience we have all shared. That being said, in light of the recent ICG, it would be apt to explore the notion of teams through sports.


Before I plunge into my ramblings on sports, I want you to ponder about what it means to be a good team. What anyone considers to be a good team can broadly be categorized into two groups: the team that bags the most glory, or the one that feels like home. Sure, these traits need not be mutually exclusive, but most of the time, a choice needs to be made about which to prioritize. The team that focuses on winning usually lacks inclusivity because it naturally selects those with athletic ability and talent. On the other hand, it is difficult to make tough decisions for the sake of winning when a team is focused on making everyone feel welcomed. Looking back at my fair share of competitions, I have seen my team captains struggle to balance their desire to win with the need to make the experience enjoyable for everyone. This is especially so in an environment like Tembusu, where inclusivity is put on a pedestal, while the pull of victory nonetheless remains an alluring incentive that one can hardly brush off callously. Depending on their reasons for playing the sport, each person will adopt differing definitions of a good team. To me, I think it is more important to foster bonds and build a community before setting out to achieve any victory. Achievements and the gratification they bring can be satisfying, however, what you will remember the most is not any placing or award, but the exhilaration of winning with your team.


Considering the nature of team sports, it is impossible for you to play alone. Regardless of how good you are, you cannot realistically expect to fulfil the different roles of the team. As a result, this necessitates that trust be an indispensable component of team sports. You need to trust your team to accomplish their own roles, to carry the responsibility of winning the point together. As you pass the metaphorical baton on to them, there is little else you can do except to watch your team with bated breath, as they manoeuvre deftly through the limbo between scoring and losing. As scary as it sounds for all you perfectionists out there, trusting your team mates can actually be a source of strength. When you play sports, it is inevitable that you will tire out, lose concentration and falter. This is when you look to your team, and see that they are in the exact same position as you, pushing through and fighting for the win. Your team is where you will find solace.


But as much as being on a team can be a source of strength, no one talks about how difficult it is to be part of a team. Being in a team is a heavy responsibility. It is not just dragging yourself through exhaustion, but having to hold others up too. When you are part of a team, your mistakes are your own, but your victory belongs to the team. It is true that your mistakes affect the entire team, but you alone bear sole responsibility for it. When you are part of a team, the stakes are simply just higher. Everyone is looking to you to fulfil your role, and you have to shoulder these expectations and hopes. Unsurprisingly, I am sure that anyone who has been on a team before has struggled with the feeling of incompetence, the fear of being unable to meet their expectations. And when these feelings actualize in the form of mistakes, the game plays over and over in your head like a tired pop song, alongside commentary by that cold, analytical voice picking at your weaknesses and lamenting about the what-could-have-beens. And that’s when the should-haves and would-haves start piling up. But competitions do not wait for you to get better. That incompetence will haunt you, until victory forces it to recede into the background. However, there is hope in this thought, that this is the struggle the greats face before they became good.


A team is a great place to be. The responsibility that comes with being part of a team can feel stifling at times, but it pushes you to do better, to be better. In the process, feelings of incompetence will no doubt plague you, but they are not necessarily bad if it spurs on self-improvement. Besides, these are not things you face alone. When the responsibility becomes too much to bear or these feeling of incompetence become too crippling, there is always the team to fall back on. This solace and reassurance is the reason you will continue to struggle in the never-ending fight to the top.

Images provided by Tan Ke Han and Siqi Ng

About the Author

Yuan Ying believes in precise writing and succinct speech. If you notice her pausing during speech, it is because she is trying to stay true to her thoughts.