The importance of being a team
Cast your mind back to the end of September, where an excellent European team won the 40th Ryder Cup against the USA at Gleneagles by a comprehensive 16.5 points to 11.5, condemning their opponents to an eighth defeat out of the last ten contests. Europe were simply marvellous, yet for the most part the USA were in disarray. This famous golfing event brings together much of the finest individual talent in the world of golf yet it is also a fine example of another imperative in sport – the importance of being a team.
The contrast in team harmony between the two sides was staggering – especially as both had had two years to prepare. As a collective the European team, guided by Captain Paul McGinley, were in complete synchronization with each other whilst the Americans lead by Tom Watson were the very definitions of disunited and factious. By the third and final day Europe only needed 4.5 points to win the cup outright again, something they achieved with consummate ease and very little bother. On the other hand, the situation for the Americans is now felt to be so grave that they have set up a group to examine the state of the US Ryder Cup golf. Europe were a tight collective, the USA had cracks appearing all over the place.
When Phil Mickleson, one of the most successful and well-renowned U.S golfers in the game, publically questioned the captain sat just a few seats from him and the way the U.S team was run during the official post-tournament press conference, the vastness of the problems that had plagued them during the tournament became clear. They were not a team and simply not all pulling the same direction. They weren’t all focused on performing to the best of their respective abilities individually and as a collective to overcome their opponents. They were distracted, their heads turned by the inner cliques and team disruption that became more apparent as the three days wore on. Many will argue that the majority were committed to the cause – yet it only takes a couple of sparks to fan the flames of discontent.
On the other hand, Europe were the complete opposite. A team of many individual stars all working hard to achieve the best results for their teammates. Both sides had some world-class players, such as Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler, yet the ease with which Europe secured victory in what is historically such a tight tournament points to something more than just the odd poor put or tee shot. Team unity and spirit is a perquisite for success – Europe had it in abundance, the USA did not. It is little surprise that when the momentum does shift, those unified are able to respond faster. Indeed after losing the Friday fourballs, Europe immediately dominated the afternoon foursomes. Mickleson through the toys out of the pram when he was left out of the second days play – there was never a chance of such negativity from any of the 12 European players. Personal issues or aims were put to one side. For example, the ongoing feud between McIlroy and McDowell was well and truly swept under the carpet.
A great team needs a great leader and while there was no doubting the reputations of either Tom Watson or Paul Mcginley, one side believed 100% in their captain’s methods and the other didn’t. As lauded by McIlroy, ‘I can't say enough about our captain. Paul McGinley has been immense.’ A triumphant team needs to rally behind their manager’s methods – open and constructive questioning can be healthy, internal murmurings of frustrations are not. Furthermore, as part of this process the right partnerships in the sporting arena need to be recognised and enhanced. Whether it is a four-ball pairing, a rugby front-row or two football centre-halves, part of forming a profitable team spirit is understanding how your partner and your teammates in general work on the field. Coaches play a vital role by constructing a team in the right way and comprehending how they work best as individuals and as a unit. They need to be the ones who set the right environment for team unison to cultivate. Mcginley bringing in a certain Sir Alex Ferguson to inspire his group was an inspired decision.
Europe were a disciplined band of brothers passionate and committed to their purpose. The USA were unstructured, fragile and ambivalent. The players brought together from across the continent were able, just like they were during the stunning comeback in the 2012 Ryder Cup, to inject confidence and belief into one another. They didn’t fear making a mistaking or failing because they knew a teammate would be following behind them, supporting them every step of the way.
We can learn a lot from the victorious European team - a group who identified a common cause and courageously pursued it. They again showed the importance of being a team - the USA should take note.