Sports – Team Event vs. Time to Yourself: Choose Wisely

Photo of Peter Hartmann
September 29, 2016
Reading time
3 minutes

Participating in sports is a great way to get a much-needed workout. But is there a deeper reason why we engage in them?

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It’s time to tackle one of the most important questions of our time.

No, not whether Brexit was a good idea, who is going to win the U.S. presidential race or how Portugal managed to defeat France in Euro 2016.

The question at hand is: Apart from getting exercise, what is our social motivation for engaging in sports? Is it for camaraderie, or is it because we want time to ourselves?

It’s a burning issue among some of my friends. That’s because one of my teammates abruptly quit our team the other day. It was becoming too difficult for him to show up every Tuesday and Thursday at 20:00, while working 50 hours and spending time with his wife and two kids.

This set off a debate the likes of which has rarely been seen on our ball field: Do we do sports as a social pursuit or to lose ourselves in our own private world?

It’s an issue I’ve never given much thought. There’s no right answer, of course, otherwise there wouldn’t have been a discussion, let alone such a robust one. But it’s an interesting topic to explore.

Which is it…. Team or Individual?

The team concept inherently lends itself to camaraderie. As team members, we share a common goal – to win – and we work together to achieve it. The sense of team provides us with focused energy. Playing on a team is like having a dozen personal trainers right there on the field with you. You draw energy and motivation from your teammates and give it your all because you see them doing the same and don’t want to let them down.

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Individual workouts are different. Unless you shell out big bucks for a personal trainer, you need to be your own source of motivation. Your strength and focus must come from within. Your bike, stair-stepper or yoga mat don’t push you to work out harder and don’t care how often you show up, if you’re late or when take a few days off.

Still, there’s plenty to be said about the sense of freedom individual workouts afford us. They give us solitary time in our own world and are a great way to reflect, unwind, relax and challenge ourselves. Even get lost in our thoughts or the music playing through our headphones. Perhaps most importantly, they allow us to put some distance between ourselves and the relentless pace of our jobs and the demands of our families.

And that’s another thing that separates the two. Our teammate could no longer handle the structure team sports impose. With them, you always need to be there when the whistle blows. Yet as we get older, have families and our lives become more complex, our need for flexibility makes it more and more difficult to stay engaged in team sports.

Adding an additional layer of complexity to the discussion is the underlying issue of introvert vs. extrovert. Are introverts drawn to individual sports more than team activities? We know that team members derive energy from the company of others. But does this apply to introverts as well, or does the team actually subtract energy from them? I’m thinking I may need the help of a sports psychologist to sort this one out.

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So what’s the answer to the question of why we engage in athletics? For the individual workout or team camaraderie?

It’s both, of course.

Because what’s important isn’t why we do them, but just that we do them.

As for my departed teammate, I wish him all the best. And I guess our team will just have to get along without him until he realizes how much he misses us 😉

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