Why this team works so well

By May 26, 2013 No Comments

Bend Camp is well underway – and it’s been some really great training! Every morning we drive up to Mt. Bachelor for a ski session (and lately, there’s been tons of new snow so the tracks have been stellar) and in the afternoons we’re running, doing strength, or biking. Doing strength at this time of year is particularly painful for me, but we’ll talk about that later. 🙂

This post is about something a little more meaningful than being sore, and I actually got onto the idea because of the French National Ski Team. Because of the success that our team had last season, all while making ridiculous music videos and having fun living on the road, some of the other ski teams started paying more attention to us. Especially the French coaches – they wanted to know what the big “secret” was behind our breakout season. So they sent a coach with a camera to our camp here in Bend, and our coaches welcomed him with open arms…we don’t have anything to hide, as we don’t do weird crazy training. We just train HARD. While some may scratch their heads and wonder why we would train with other countries and let other national team coaches watch us train…it’s because we don’t have secrets. Besides one very important one: team chemistry.

The French coach took pictures of us training together, asked our coaches questions, and had us fill out questionnaires about what made our team click together and have success. And the questions they asked, like “what, in your opinion, made the women’s team have success last season?”, got me thinking. So if you’ll forgive my ramblings, I’m getting to my point. I think we did well last year for a ton of reasons, all fitting together like pieces of a puzzle. Training, recovery, being able to adapt to crazy travel schedules, learning to handle stress and the pressure of racing are all pieces of the puzzle, for sure. But one huge piece is team chemistry, and being committed to being a part of something larger than yourself. And this is something a lot of teams overlook.

I’ve been a part of a number of different teams, camps, and training groups in the last 10 years. And the ones I loved best, the ones I got the most out of, were also the ones that everyone involved put the most into. I guess what I’m trying to say is that even though you cross the finish line alone, this is NOT an individual sport. Cross country skiing is very much a team effort, and it takes a lot of people working together to make any progress. You need coaches, wax techs, teammates, and supporters. But you also need all these people to be fully committed to each other and the team. Especially if the team is on the road for months at a time.

What makes the US team so successful is that every single member is committed to being a team player, and working hard at it. It isn’t always easy – a team is made up of a bunch of people from all over the country, and everyone has a different background. So yes, we work hard at it. But it’s so worth it. Because we are a family on the road. I know it’s a clichĂ©, but it’s absolutely true! I know that if I’m ever in trouble, sad, happy, or whatever, I have a great group of people to share it with. I know that any one of my teammates will stick up for me and have my back, just like I have theirs. But that kind of team chemistry doesn’t happen overnight, and it doesn’t happen without conscious thought. Or in our case, coaches realizing the importance of a great team and taking care to work on team “fun strategies” (thanks guys!)

Coaches always talk about the high level of commitment involved in being a professional athlete – commitment to training, taking care of yourself, racing, etc. But they rarely speak of the commitment involved in joining a team. When you’re fully invested in being a good teammate, there will be times when you have to bite your tongue and swallow your pride for the sake of the group. There will be times when you had a horrible race but need to just get over it so you don’t bring other people down with you. There will be times when you had an awesome race but need to shut up about it because someone else just had a really bad day. There will be times when you need to either talk to someone about their weird habit that’s driving you nuts or learn to ignore it. There will be times when you need to admit you’re being grumpy and annoying and just take 5. But there will also be times when you are bummed out and all your teammates rally and cheer you up. There are countless times when your teammates come to your rescue and help you out. There will be many, many times when you feel so loved and appreciated for exactly who you are, surrounded by people you are proud to be on a team with. And you get to share in the team successes and celebrate each victory as if it was your own, because in a sense every good result that any one of us gets belongs to the entire group.

So yes, you do need to work at it to be a good teammate, but the result is that you get to travel around with a second family and have a great time, and it’s so, so worth it.

I went back through some of my pictures from the last year, and threw in a bunch of memorable team moments. Starting with this camp, in Bend:

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Ida, Sadie and Kikkan getting ready to drive up the mountain to ski

Every morning there’s a big rally to get skis and equipment ready by 8am. Everyone’s helping each other out and it moves much more quickly when people share ski and waxing ideas. It sounds almost silly to write that (of course a team would share what the wax of the day is…right?!??) but I know there are teams where every athlete and tech is on their own.

Sadie loading up skis from our waxing garage

Sadie and Matt loading up skis from our waxing garage

One of my favorite memories of last season was our relay race in Gallivare, Sweden. We were so psyched to have accomplished a big goal together that we couldn’t stop hugging each other, and spectators might have though we straight up won the Olympics, we were so happy! But my favorite part was how everyone shared the moment and was an equal part of the race, whether cheering, skiing, coaching or waxing.

Team hug in Gallivare after the relay

Team hug in Gallivare after the relay

Another thing I think we do well as a team is cheer each other on. Of course, if you have a race the next day it doesn’t work to be standing outside cheering for hours, but when we get an opportunity we jump at it! This picture is from the men’s 50km in Val di Fiemme, where all the girls were out cheering our boys on.

After the men's 50km at World Champs

After the men’s 50km at World Champs

We also do a lot of hanging out as a team; going to concerts, movies, playing charades, and just chilling together, like the picture below from the beach at Lake Tahoe during Spring Series.

Hanging out at spring series

Hanging out at spring series

We psych each other up for races and training, encouraging each other and bringing the energy level up. Witness below a van ride (although we don’t always end up singing country music, like we did that day)!

A fun team van ride up to the venue

A fun team van ride up to the venue

And yes, we sometime literally carry our friends on our shoulders when they need help. Like when Jordan’s shoes were stolen at spring series and Skyler had to carry him over the snow. True teammates at work.

Skyler giving Jordan a lift when his shoes were stolen

Skyler giving Jordan a lift when his shoes were stolen

Whew! I realize this was a longer post, but I guess you can tell that I feel pretty strongly about this. Whatever team your on, be it your family, you ski team, your work team, your track/swimming/running/cycling/dance/soccer/ninja/rugby/weightlifting/gymnastics/football/basketball team…commit to it, all the way.