Personal Growth in a Team Environment

John Watson

It is often said that Triathlon is an individual sport. While it may be true that you are on the start line as an individual, there are a multitude of ways that highlight how a club environment turns an individual pursuit into a team game. Within this club environment, the way we interact and communicate will begin do define how each individual sees the club, and this will ultimately define their view on the world around them.


A Triathlon club is made up of the athlete, coaches, families, local businesses, communities and even cities. All of them connected by this element of interaction and communication around the sport we love so dearly. The way we communicate with each other will be the base to the bridges built in the future, the friendships created and the value each of us give to the experiences shared as individuals and as groups.


To ensure we get the best out of each relationship, as athletes, as coaches and as members of the community, we need to understand the different ways we can express our emotions and relate to others’ emotions as well.


It is an unconscious human emotion that a part of achieving something great, means sharing it with the world around you. It follows then that if you know an athlete, you will be used to hearing regular stories of success. When you are in a situation of being told these stories of achievement, there are 3 basic ways that you can respond to the information.

  1. keeping a self-centred stance,
  2. recognising their effort from your personal point of view (sympathy), or
  3. stepping into their shoes and acknowledge their effort (empathy).


The first way to respond to someone sharing their life achievements with you is by keeping a self-centred stance. This means that the conversation usually turns to one side ignoring the other. When this happens, the communication is one sided, and there is no real exchange of information, just a monologue from one side.


An example of this is when someone starts talking endlessly about their athletic life when someone else is trying to share a bit of his or her life. This can also be describing your professional career when someone who just graduated lands his or her first job. This usually ends in the other person avoiding any meaningful communication, as there is no real growth coming from socialising or lesson to be learnt by sharing a valuable moment.


The second way of responding to someone is by acknowledging what they have done from a personal point of view. This is what is called sympathy. When this happens, most of their successes, their failures, their achievements or disappointments are immediately compared or put into perspective by using our own personal emotions and feelings. Depending on whom we are speaking to, speaking from a sympathetic point of view can make us feel better or worse about ourselves. Doing this is not necessarily wrong, it just means that communication can be improved and even though we understand the feeling the other person has, we see it from our own, sometimes limited, perspective.


An example of this is when someone compares someone else’s race times with their own race times. In day-to-day life, this could also be aligning ourselves with some organisation, politician or person when their words and action have some resonance with our own.


The third, and most meaningful, response is the one of being empathic with the other individuals words. This occurs when you step out of your own personal perspective and acknowledge not only the other persons point of view, but the fight and the struggle behind their achievements. Being empathic is transporting your emotion into someone else’s and laugh or cry with them when they achieve or fail.


As athletes and as coaches this is what keeps us united, acknowledging the other person’s fight, and also opening us up to the help, the advice and the honest comment of the other.


An example of this is when someone shares a new personal best time or completes their gym training program for beginners, and the other person genuinely recognises not only the achievement, but the effort behind it. Empathy can also be seen when a person genuinely smiles and gets happy for the other persons achievement, like the high fives and (covid safe) hugs at the team tent post race.


Finally, we don’t have to stay in a self-centred, or express sympathy or empathy every time we speak with someone. We do sometimes feel the opportunity to communicate in a deeper way with someone, some other days we are just too tired and want to focus on our own situations. When sharing in team environment, you should feel free to genuinely share with the people around you. You also need to take the time to listen. Every single person can teach you something from their past experiences. Even as a coach we can learn something about the way others live the sport and grow around it. Endurance sport gives you the perfect opportunity to build strong bridges with others, share experiences, live adventures together and create a more meaningful life by learning from every session, every race and even every post-session coffee.