Team Culture | Australia’s Missing Piece

This weekend I attended the Sydney Open Meet that doubled as University Nationals, and here is what I took away.

Team culture.

I think there are many avenues one can go down when trying to define such an idea, but instead of defining it, I would rather focus on what it does.

As part of Team UQ, I witnessed first hand the effects that a positive and supportive group had on my swimming and others. Speaking personally, I went into this meet with the goal of racing tough. This being summed up nicely within a discussion with coach Sean as:

“Putting your body as far out of your comfort zone as possible, and still performing. It’s not pretty, but bloody oath it builds character.”

Funnily enough, I don’t think the tough racing was the part that built my character. Instead, it was the team mates who were constantly on my back in whatever shape or form it took.

I raced the 100m, twice, which I had absolutely no intention of doing. Why? Because my team needed me to. I did 12 races across 3 days with a body maybe conditioned to do 2. Why? Because it meant points for the team. I then went out each day and night and spent time with my teammates where usually I would selfishly recluse to recover. Why? Because that’s what the team needed.

From this, I observed something even more interesting. Comparatively speaking, the teams that focused on individual performance and less on team culture did not perform as well compared to their best times. Even within the team, those who did not buy into the culture did not race as well. Even by actively doing the opposite of what our body required, the guys and girls by our side were enough to get us ripping out effort after effort from the blocks for the team.

Another interesting observation related to the people that made up the team. Some were coming back from a month-long break. Some were coming out of retirement. Some were in the middle of heavy training. None really had any right, if the teachings are to be followed, to swim fast. Yet many did. Interesting.

Now I am not encouraging this sort of behaviour long term. Obviously, following the right processes will be far better, but this experiment speaks volumes for the idea I was testing.

Furthermore, I think it can be expanded as a commentary on Australia compared to other nations, particularly the US. Our club-based structure allows for team culture to develop in microcosms but does not compare to the massive emphasis that College swimming has on the same idea.

The effects of this?

Well as an individual sport, the drop out rate is much higher where there is no greater purpose than yourself. So firstly, culture appears to improve the longevity of athletes within the sport.

Secondly, performance without support becomes dependent on the energy and motivation you can individually muster. This is a heavy burden, and one that is much relieved by the energy of team members.

Thirdly, and probably most importantly, a positive team culture fosters a love for the sport that grows as your team does. This weekend, my love for swimming was refreshed, and I was reminded why I do what I do.

If only, moments like this could come more often. Thanks team 🙂

~ Mackenzie

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