Team, individual sports offer varying benefits


Sports are often applauded for teaching valuable qualities, such as perseverance and patience. Team sports such as basketball and soccer require collaboration while individual sports such as tennis and wrestling emphasize self-reliance. It is beneficial to understand the key differences and similarities between team and individual sports to understand how sports function as a whole.

Team sports

Some of the most popular sports in the world are team sports—with images of lifting trophies, winning a game and team spirit often coming to mind. At the same time, team sports are a constant work-in-progress as a team accrues experience, deals with failure and ultimately succeeds together. Team sports provide a welcoming environment. For junior Celine Safa, who plays volleyball and soccer, being a part of two team sport communities has forged lasting connections in high school. “(The) benefits of volleyball and soccer have been socializing and becoming really close with my teammates,” she said. Similarly, freshman Sophia Kim values the atmosphere of group sports she experienced during her time with the water polo, soccer and swim teams. “My favorite aspect is the team because everyone is supportive and it’s very high energy,” she said. Oftentimes, individual effort is overshadowed by a team dynamic. Like a puzzle, a team is composed of athletes with unique attributes who must cooperate to maximize team success—one star player cannot win a game alone. Through experience, the team builds confidence and trust. Wrestling coach and Physical Education teacher Braumon Creighton recognizes the challenges of ultimate success in a team setting. “Team sport success is harder to control,” he said. “For a sport like football, it’s really hard to have
success unless you have 11 people pulling their weight and working hard for the same goal.”

For team sport athletes, there is an additional mental stressor: letting the team down. Judgment from teammates hinders self-confidence and leads to social ostracization. “For teams, the mental obstacle would be letting the team down on a crucial play, (one that could be the) difference between winning and losing,” Creighton said. Kim echoed this sentiment and believes that competing in swim relays creates more pressure than competing alone. “If it’s a relay, you don’t want to let your teammates down,” she said. “You want to make sure you swim fast, don’t mess up a dive or get your team disqualified.”

Team sports frequently have a natural dynamic of competition within the team. However, this usually creates greater depth and positive encouragement for improvement. Safa believes that competition in team sports is often healthy. “In my experience with team sports, your teammates provide you support and healthy competition rather than toxicity, because in the end they want you and the team to succeed,” she said.

Individual Sports

Individual sports operate differently, as athletes face the task of tackling challenges alone. In turn, athletes learn intrinsic motivation, develop mental toughness and become self-reliant. Oftentimes, they are their biggest opponent. In the rigorous conditions of individual sports, the mentality more closely resembles that of every man for himself. Growing up in a competitive wrestling environment, Creighton understands the attitude of individual sport athletes. “In individual sports, you would probably rather win yourself than see your team win,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be that way, but we can be a little more selfish because we don’t necessarily have to share.” Still, individual sports can also teach athletes to play fairly and respect their opponents.

Individual sports hone personal improvement and self-responsibility. Tennis player freshman Jacob Jiang appreciates the flexibility and personal aspect of individual sports. “Individual sports are about an individual’s own strategy and their own movements performed to perfection,” he said. At the same time, Jiang believes that misconceptions about tennis—such as seclusion—are not necessarily true. “Personally, it never feels isolating to play tennis,” he said. “It’s like communicating with your clone; you cheer yourself up (and) tell yourself to hit crosscourt.” Individual sport training revolves around improving technique and strengthening weaknesses. Athletes partake in individualized drills, exercises and conditioning to maximize performance. Safa, who also sprints and hurdles on the track and field team, approaches running training differently. “You only have yourself to focus on, and it forces you to hold yourself accountable for your own training and progress, so the goals that I set for myself look different than the goals that I would set with my team,” she said. “In order to push towards a personal record, I train in a much more personalized manner, rather than training towards larger (and broader) team goals.”

Individual sports in high school still provide socialization. While athletes compete individually, they are still part of a bigger team working towards a common objective. Jiang, who plays singles tennis, is still able to bond with and rely on his teammates. “(For) high school tennis, it is more like a team environment, as people cheer you on just like at any other soccer or baseball game,” he said. “Coaches get to talk to you between points and you get to talk to your teammates.”

Overall Benefits

Multi-sport participation can also complement an athlete’s skill set. For Kim, being a swimmer aids her progress on the water polo team. “Since I swam before I started water polo, I already had experience in the water and that gave me an advantage,” she said. “Water polo gives you good endurance and builds strength for swimming.”

Ultimately, both individual and team sports teach athletes valuable life skills and provide an opportunity to train the mind and body. Creighton believes that all sports teach athletes valuable skill sets, especially under challenging circumstances. “The goal-setting skills that you develop are so valuable, and you learn to deal with disappointment,” he said. “People who have played sports have dealt with challenges before, so they have more practice. They’ve developed drive, grit and ability to delay gratification and can continue to get up and go again. That is a valuable life skill, and sports is a great platform to teach that.”