Team or Individual Sports?


When I was in college, I interviewed for a part-time job at a telecommunications company. This one is going to date me (and painfully so). At the time, Caller ID services (ack!) for land lines (double ack!) were not exactly new, but they had only been around for a few years, so that would end up being the product I was asked to help sell. None of that is important to this story, it is just kind of comical to recount.

Anyway. During the interview, I was asked a slew of generic questions, and in the middle of all of them, the interviewer asks “If you could only play one sport for the rest of your life, what would it be?” I was nervous enough not to say “why are you asking me this?” but relaxed enough to easily answer “lacrosse.” It had just started playing the sport on the university’s club team and loved it, so it was a quick and easy answer.  Fast forward to the end of the interview…I had shaken off any nervousness and asked why he had asked ‘the question about sports.’ He explained that it had to do with the interviewee’s leaning regarding independent competitors/team players.  Someone who said golf or tennis might be more of an independent person versus someone who answers with a team sport.  There is no right or wrong, I guess - just one gauge that gets rolled up with all of those other odd questions.

That was nearly 20 years ago…tied to a job that I could not care less about. However, I still think about it.  I think about it because it examines a pretty interesting facet of me (or anyone, I guess).  I like golf - I can see that if you do really badly, then there is no one to blame but yourself and that if you do well, then you can fully reap all of the rewards. The public may look up to you and applaud your efforts - you may even gain world-wide recognition!

However, overall, I thrive more in a team environment.

But wait a second! One of the reasons I liked lacrosse at the time was because, as an attackman - the position designated for scoring goals, I got all kinds of props and ‘spotlight time.’  Does the interview question still work? Yes. It still works because the difference is that when you are on a team, you have a role to play within an entity that is bigger than just ‘you.’ If things don’t go well, then usually there is some one or some process built into the team to help ensure that you are covered. Also, when you do well in a team environment, then the recognition you get comes from your peers - the ones who best understand the context in which you perform.  In my experience, that understanding means a lot.

Finding a balance in between having an individual sport mentality and a team sport mentality is where I really fall. In plenty of aspects of my life, I prefer the quiet “me” environment. In others, it is really important to me that people see me as dependable to fulfill my role.  The same holds true with certain personality traits. The needle can swing back and forth quickly and easily, so I work to keep it as close to the center line as possible for the big picture. 

Upon this introspection, I have come to understand that I am most comfortable in a support position.  Self-realization about one’s traits seems so un-exciting - I mean, it is “me,” so I should know this stuff, right? But in the end, being self-aware is not always that easy. Doing so, though, can be very empowering because I can “play life” to my strengths now.

Are you more of a team player or an individual competitor? 

Mynde Mayfield's image from flickr used via attribution

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