I’ve mentioned before that I play football for a team sponsored by my (former) employer. We won the league cup the other year and I still count that as one of my fondest sporting memories. We finished mid-table last season despite stringing together some very good performances (including being the only team to beat the league champions).
It’s a Summer league and this Winter we joined a 5-a-side league with most of the same teams in it. A couple of guys from another team joined us and it was really good fun. We couldn’t get a team out for a couple of games at the start and dropped points straight away but after then we managed to get it together and we were very tough to beat. In fact the two games we did lose were as a result of key players not being available (due to illness and injury) and not being able to replace them with like-for-likes.
In the end we couldn’t catch the runaway league leaders and finished second but what I did learn was that having a settled squad – just like in any game of football from amateur to professional – brings consistent results. When playing with the same people each game everybody knows when to attack, when to defend, what position to go into under each circumstance and where each person will make their runs. It’s almost like telepathy and the game seems easy. But take one or two players out and suddenly it doesn’t click any more and winning gets harder.
When I was at school and University I used to play individual sports like tennis, squash, swimming, running and biking and really enjoyed them. But what I love about team sports like football is if you don’t play as a team you don’t win. It’s not about individual skill and one person scoring and winning the game single-handed – it’s about everybody contributing and working for the team so that that person can get the ball in the right place at the right time to score the goal. If one person doesn’t put the work in then everybody suffers.
For example, I very rarely score more than the odd goal – in fact I scored exactly one goal in every game we won – so you can’t rely on me to score enough goals to win a game. However I’m not bad at making passes that can cut through a team and give someone who can score lots of goals a chance. Also I’m not bad at tackling and winning the ball, but I’m not great either so you can’t rely on me to win the ball all the time. But that’s ok as long as we have someone else who can play that part (which we do). And so on. Together we make a team and cover all bases but if one of us takes our foot off the accelerator then the whole thing breaks down. If we don’t win the ball, don’t pass it into space and don’t get someone on the end of it who can score, then we don’t do well (to simplify things somewhat).
The great thing is when everybody plays for each other, the team clicks and there’s no better feeling than going off the pitch at the end of the game having won a tough match – it’s one for all and all for one (sorry, that line probably set off your cliché detector). As I get older I have to do quite a bit of training and flexibility work to stop my knees from falling apart and continue playing at a decent level – but it’s no hardship since playing in a team with quality players against good opposition is great fun. I’ll enjoy it while it (and my body) lasts!