Team sports and individual sports both achieve athletic development and good character. However, the principles that dictate success relative to each are different. Individual sports foster mental toughness and personal mastery. Team sports teach kids cooperation and “teamwork”, for lack of a better term. Both are valuable for kids to participate in, but I’d like to take a minute to talk about some of the differences.
It seems in our culture we focus popularly on team sports, while still placing emphasis on that “star” player. Although this will probably guarantee a scholarship, it won’t help on the field unless the team works together. Team sports teach kids how to cooperate with their peers and work together for a common goal, which they then get to celebrate. They learn hard lessons about sportsmanship and etiquette. Hopefully, they begin to understand the importance of knowing when to lead and knowing when to follow. I know personally growing up playing team sports and particularly as team captain throughout high school taught me that to lead was also to follow. You cannot successfully do one without the other. With team sports also comes the shared responsibility of not letting your teammates down. There comes a time when each player needs to be willing to put it all on the line for each other, where every team member needs to commit or it just won’t work. There is nothing quite like sharing such a victory with your teammates. On the other hand, when it doesn’t come together, it is time to learn that blaming others is not the answer.
Team sports dilute the effects of strongest players and diminish the effects of the worst players. No such luxury exists in an individual sport like weightlifting. In individual sport, you are your own competition. That is obviously not to say competing against other athletes isn’t still the realization of training. It means that every time an athlete walks into the gym to train, they are there to try and do better than whatever their best was the day before. It requires an immense amount of focus, drive, passion, and discipline. There is nothing to hide behind, no one to fall back on. Athletes often experience plateaus in performance that can be trying to push through, and the pressure on competition day is in it’s own category. Personally, I never knew what I was capable of until my first weightlifting meet - even after years of being an athlete. It is an experience I know I want for every kid from the moment they first time they walk into our gym. It is not about the kilos on the bar, it is about training for months to overcome physical obstacles, and then overcoming the mental obstacle of stepping out on the platform and putting it all on the line.
Individual sports also allow for very personalized attention and training. The training is programmed to work on specific weaknesses of an athlete, which is something you see less of in team sports. Particularly in weightlifting, where mastery of the lifts requires a broad foundation of physical literacy, coaches get to take the time with kids to ensure any poor movement patterns are corrected right away. This is important for preventing sports injuries, which are more common in team sports than individual sports according to studies done by sports medicine specialists. One study showed that Weightlifting”produced just 2 to 4 injuries per 1,000 hours of training. For comparison, sports like ice hockey, football, soccer, and rugby have injury rates ranging from 6 to 260 per 1,000 hours, and long-distance runners can expect about 10 injuries per 1,000 hours of pavement pounding.” Individual sports emphasize personal mastery and usually involve a high level of technical proficiency to be competitive. This means extreme attention to detail is paid to each athlete, and coaches get to really know the habits, strengths, and weaknesses of each one. Training then adheres to all of these factors.
It is not surprising that our culture participates in team sports more than individual sports. In all honesty, team sports tend to be more enjoyable to most people. Research supports this, and I personally had that experience growing up. I love team sports. I think it’s extremely important that kids enjoy their athleticism so that it’s something they choose to participate in their whole life. Specialization at a young age should be avoided anyways to ensure a long, healthy athletic career. Weightlifting supports training for team sports and fortifies kids with characteristics they will struggle to develop in other activities. Although it is an individual sport, weightlifting still offers a lot of the enjoyable parts of team sports. When you step on the platform, you are representing a team that you train with and that has your back. The training environment is very important, and your teammates are always there to push you harder. The relationships you form as a weightlifter with your teammates, through your common struggle and shared goals, is unlike any other sport I have been in. This sport is the next frontier in developing athleticism for American youth. Which bring us to my favorite life-lesson: the greater the challenge, the greater the reward. The more discomfort, the more growth.