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Team versus individual goals

There’s a common saying that ‘there’s no I in team’ but individual goals need to be integrated into those of the team in order to effectively plan for success.

‘Goals’ is one of the more misunderstood and over-prescribed words used in sport and other performance environments. What becomes even more confusing is when one throws around words like mission, vision, purpose, objectives, targets and scenarios. A Google search to learn the difference between these words is enough to get a lot of people scratching their heads.

Follow whichever of these works for you, with the emphasis on ‘what works’. Doing things because ‘that’s the way they’ve always been done’ is often not as effective as doing what works for you and your players in your specific context.

In a team sport context, I simplify these into two questions, which are asked of BOTH the team and individuals:

1 Where are we/you going?
2 What’s important that will help move us/you in that direction?

A player-centred approach would see the coach asking these questions, allowing individuals and the team as a whole to come up with answers, which can then be discussed

Team

When Gary Kirsten and I joined the Indian national cricket team as coaches in 2008, we facilitated conversations with the one-day team that revealed:

  1. The team wanted to become 'India’s best-ever ODI team'.
  2. In order to give ourselves the best chance of realising this, the following five things were deemed by the players to be important, each of which had detailed explanations of what these terms meant to the team:
    • team first: placing team ahead of individual needs
    • excellence: Set world standards in best practice
    • entertaining: Fully express skills and self
    • attitude of winners: Believe we can win from every situation
    • mature individuals: Make good decisions, on- and off-field

Individual

It’s all well and good having clear team goals and then asking players to place the team first, to say ‘there’s no I in team’, but the reality is people have their own needs, wants, desires and goals that are important to them. These cannot and should not be dwarfed by the needs of a team, but rather included and integrated.

I ask players to write down the answers to the following questions:

  1. ‘What do you personally want to achieve from your journey with this team?’ Or the same question differently put, ‘If this was to be the most successful and enjoyable season of your life, what would need to happen?’ I remind players to focus purely on their own needs, for example win the competition, improve, learn loads, get selected into a higher team, make good friends, prove someone wrong, make a name for myself, support my family — whatever is important to that individual.

  2. ‘Looking at both what you personally want to achieve and what the team wants, what are the important things that you need to do to simultaneously achieve your and the team’s desired outcomes?’ Aligning their and the team goals, players might respond with: eat, train, recover and/or sleep well, work on a specific new skill, diligently follow all my routines, support teammates, be courageous, ask good questions, etc.

All bodes well where team and individual goals are aligned.

Clash of interests

In reality, there’ll be cases where individual interests clash with those of the team. A typical example would be a player wanting to score 500 runs in a T20 tournament and the team agreeing to play attacking and selfless cricket. The individual goal suggests playing more cautiously, while the team goal suggests taking more risks.

An individual who wants to score a certain number of goals in hockey or soccer might lean towards being selfish by holding the ball rather than passing. This is perfectly normal, it happens in most teams, where an individual’s and team’s interests clash. This is where the concepts of ‘team player’ and ‘selfish player’ arise.

I make it known to the team that I know this clash happens and it’s normal.

I lead players to this understanding of clashing goals and ask players to think it through, questioning what choice they would ideally make when these differing interests clash.

One way to do this could be to have players think of the wisest person they know and imagine what that person would advise.

Whether you do this exercise or not, the clash will happen, and players will have to make their own call. My suggestion, for the benefit of the team and the individual, is to bring this scenario to the awareness of the team.

Your task

When setting individual and team goals it’s essential that they’re generated by the players in conjunction with the coach. In the comments, describe the strategies you use to plan for success.

When you’ve contributed your own strategies, review your peers’ comments and consider how their strategies can inform your approach.

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Player-centred Coaching

Deakin University

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