Thursday, January 6, 2005 - Perspective
National Team Haywood Report: Making a team into a Team

- By: Gord Jewett

It has been eight months since the first National Ski Team camp of the year at Mount Assiniboine Lodge and it seems like it was ages ago. When the team first assembled it was a mixed bag of athletes. Some had spent their lives on the National Team and were best friends, and others had barely exchanged rough greetings as they passed each other on the ski trails. Aided by endless hours of Jenga, talk and food that was - judging by the aerial ski acrobatics that were taking place - literally good enough to die for, we started to become a team after only a week together in the mountains. If you had have asked by at the end of May is we were a “real team”, I would have hesitantly answered “yes”, but I’m not totally sure that I would have meant it.

Fast forward a few months of hard training and pushing each other over roads, hills and glaciers and my answer would have been much the same, but then we began to work with sport psychologist Cal Boteral in a conscious effort to actually become a real team. I was on the list of skeptics when it comes to the feasibility of team building exercises having any real effect. I’ve been around the block for a number of years and although we’ve always made efforts to become a real team, it’s never really evolved into more than a few cliques of athletes that support each other. With Cal we didn’t embark on soul searching through the forest or catching each other’s falls from picnic tables, we just sat and talked about what our goals are and how a real team environment can contribute to our mutual success. Although I’m a skeptic about team building, I do believe in the benefits of having a team that you can support and is there to support you, and much to my surprise, we actually started to make headway towards that goal.

By the end of our training camp in New Zealand in August, I was actually feeling like the group really was becoming a team. The group that stayed in Canada to train was feeling much the same way, but when we all merged back into one for training in September most of our headway had been lost and we were back to square one in many respects of team building. Cal came in and once again got us moving in the right direction, and I’d say we’ve been moving that way ever since.

Building a team is not something that happens overnight, and it takes a lot of conscious effort, but as I sit here now and think back, I am amazed at the progress we’ve all made together. I’d be lying if I said we were a perfect team, we’re far from it, but we’re getting there. The toughest test of course came at the end of December when we all met head to head and battled for spots on the World Championship team and on the European Continental Cup team. There is nothing harder than supporting and being supported by the people you are in direct competition with, and it was that test that really made me believe we had made progress.

The selections have now all been made, and the team is moving out in different directions across the globe at the end of this week, as we all subdivide into new team groups and welcome new faces into those groups in most cases as well. In the dynamic world to ski racing teams usually change just as you start to get used to them, and the trick is to adapt well and welcome new faces into the fold as seamlessly as possible. It’s always hard to be leaving disappointed team mates behind that shared the same goals all summer, but when we all get back together next spring we will once again be fighting and pushing each other towards the same fabled heights of Olympic success. The challenge of course will be to remain a real team as we are scattered across the globe, but after all the progress we’ve made I think we’re up to the challenge. I’m already looking forward to getting everyone together again next May.

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Source: Cross Country Canada

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