Team Ethos - trackboundUSA
NCAA Team Ethos

Team Ethos

Americans love getting behind team sports, and when it comes to supporting sports teams, fans are spoilt for choice. The ‘big four’ professional sport franchises, consisting of the NFL, NBA, MLB, and the NHL offer fans a combined total of 104 teams to pick from. Whether it is the romanticism of an underdog victory, the thrill of seeing their side winning, or just the sheer physical prowess that the elite athletes display; these sports dominate ESPN’s television coverage and viewing figures will be extremely high.

Not mutually exclusive to following professional sports, most keen American sports fans will also follow a college team (amateur) with an equal amount of enthusiasm. Football (American) and basketball are again easily the most popular sports and the revenue generated from these sports can often fund most of a school’s athletic program.  However, to the loyal fan college sport is not only about football and basketball, and they tend to get behind their team regardless of the sport in question; Tennis, rowing, ladies softball, track and field, to name a few examples. Although many of these sports are typically considered wholly individual, collegiate competition will almost always have some kind of team element involved in proceedings and this is really what fans care the most about.

With such an overriding team culture enshrined into American collegiate sport, it is hardly surprising to say that in almost all cases this filters down into the day to day functioning of the teams. This brings us on to the main point here and that is to highlight one of the main differences between track and cross country in the US and the UK; ‘team ethos’.

Being part of a collegiate cross country and/or track team in the US really is an all in commitment. There are two clear choices and these are made clear from the outset. You are either in and give everything to the team, or if not then maybe come back next year and go and do what everyone else does by joining a fraternity and playing ultimate-frisbee. Hopefully, readers who have made it this far will be looking more towards Penn Relays than the annual water fight between Kappa Theta v Zeta Beta fraternity houses.

Winning conference and in some cases national titles are likely to be the main goals that unite everyone within the team. To reach these goals athletes are expected to do everything together. They train together every day, they share the same coaches, they are largely on the same competition schedule, and sometimes they must put aside individual demands for the greater good of the team. For an insight into this, we recommend watching many of the coach and athlete interviews that are available on the internet.  You will typically hear coaches and athletes talking more about team goals rather than individual success, especially during cross country season.

How successful teams are at functioning will vary tremendously. When things are going smoothly and everyone is working well together, track and cross country can sometimes seem easy and almost feel like a true team sport. However, after a few poor team performances, or worse still throw a couple of bad eggs into the group and things can become very strained.  Safe to say, there are pros and cons of this close nit set up.

The team orientated structure that is so prevalent in the collegiate system is very different to your typical UK club or university set up. The sport is traditionally viewed as very much individual, leaving athletes and coaches largely to their own devices to pick and chose what events suits them and when.

One obvious reason for this difference is to look at the contrasting fixture list. The UK domestic fixture list is hardly conducive to a big emphasis on team competition. With so many different events to pick from all around the year, groups of athletes are invariably going to be on differing competition schedules, preventing them from really having that shared sense of purpose inherent in the collegiate system. Things can potentially become quite complicated to balance when you have to think about representing your school, club, county, or country over indoor track, outdoor track, cross country and road events.

Whilst athletes in the US are there on scholarship, many of the best clubs in the UK are merely used as a point of convenience for athletes. Other than wearing the club singlet on race day, they may have no particular affiliation to the club that they represent, and this is typical for many of the bigger clubs. Even internally within clubs or universities, there will often be numerous different groups and coaches operating apart from each other. In fact, we would guess that the number of complete senior teams competing at any of the national cross, road relays or BUCS XC who all share the same coach, same training, and same racing program could be counted on one hand. Of course there are exceptions these generalisations, but on the whole it is uncontroversial to say that in the UK athletics and cross country is very much an individual sport.

Whilst it is not possible to give a generic answer to which type of set up is better, we will finish by saying that many of the athletes we have spoken to who have returned from the US, will cite that it is the ‘team ethos’ that they miss the most. Grinding out 6*1 mile on a cold dark evening or getting out for morning training before work / school is infinitely easier and more pleasurable when part of a team. The camaraderie created when a group of hard working athletes who all share the same purpose and desire towards a common goal; these are often the lasting memories that stay with athletes for years after graduating.

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