Brian Ashton: Individuals make the best team players

Tackling The Issues

"There is no 'I' in 'teams'." Most of us who have been involved in coaching or management for any length of time are familiar with this well-worn phrase, which, given the frequency with which it is heard, might more accurately be called a mantra.

Like many snippets of home-spun sporting philosophy, it attempts to capture the essence of a basic truth: in this case, that the significance of the individual in a team game is as nothing compared to the importance of the collective. And like many of these one-liners, it misses the point.

Just ask Warren Gatland about the influence of individuals, their thought processes and their decision-making. I'd be very interested to know the Wales coach's private view on Alun Wyn Jones and his visit to the sin bin during last week's Six Nations scrap with England (although I can probably work it out for myself). And what about the interception pass thrown by Stephen Jones towards the end of the match? If these individual contributions were not absolutely central to the outcome of the contest, I was watching a different game to everyone else.

Here were prime examples of what I call the "critical moment theory" of top-level sport – instances of unpredictable and confused thinking by individuals operating in a high- pressure environment. And what is it that makes a rugby team? Fifteen individuals, all of whom are likely, at some stage or other, to find themselves making split-second calls in dynamic situations that, by their very nature, defy pre-planning. If one or two of those calls happen to be wrong, the balance tips towards the opposition, as Wales demonstrated.

I am deeply perplexed by this idea that individuals don't count. On this logic, why do man-of-the-match awards exist? (To digress for a moment, it was notable that all three gongs from last week's matches went to back-row forwards: David Wallace of Ireland, James Haskell of England and Imanol Harinordoquy of France. What did this tell us? In my view, it was indicative that each team, with the arguable exception of the French, made a cagey start to the tournament, sparring with opponents rather than attacking them with all their available weaponry. I didn't expect this from Ireland. It may be that they wanted to hold something back for today's big match in Paris, but at international level it's a big call to play within yourselves).

Again, if there is no real place for individuality, why do we have the cult of captaincy? Just recently, all three captains of our major team sports – John Terry, Andrew Strauss and Steve Borthwick – have, for very different reasons, dominated the headlines. While we're on this subject, I must say that Borthwick's last two performances for England may well have settled the very public argument concerning his place in the Test side. Only those who insist on viewing his rugby through very dark glasses will see it otherwise.

We hear so much about "leadership groups" and "core leadership" but, in my experience, the key factor in the development of a truly successful side is the presence of individuals in every position who are prepared and equipped to stand up to be counted at the moments of greatest intensity and perform their allotted roles to the best possible standard. I've spoken before of the elements that make up the high-level performance equation: the physical, the mental, the tactical and the technical. The higher the level of competition, the more ruthlessly an individual's weakness in any of these areas will be exposed. When that happens, the effect on the team – the collective – is often dramatic.

It seems to me that the "no 'I' in 'teams'" approach is fundamentally flawed. For want of a better word, it's a myth. It deserves to be treated with the same suspicion as other questionable phrases, like "game plan", and for the same very good reason: it takes no account of the "oh no, what have I done?" part of sport, which is always with us. People do daft things on the field, especially when the so-called "plan" doesn't work the way they expected and they find themselves wondering what to do next.

Everyone should take the field prepared to lead as and when the situation demands, because in a game of rugby it will fall on each player to make an important decision of his own, more often than not when things are going badly. If you have 15 people who can do this, you have a true collective and a true team. A team made up of individuals.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Extras
indybest
Arts and Entertainment
Judi Dench appeared at the Hay Festival to perform excerpts from Shakespearean plays
tvJudi Dench and Hugh Bonneville join Benedict Cumberbatch in BBC Shakespeare adaptations
Arts and Entertainment
Exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in Metz - 23 May 2012
art
Sport
Is this how Mario Balotelli will cruise into Liverpool?
football
News
Ronahi Serhat, a PKK fighter, in the Qandil Mountains in Iraqi Kurdistan
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Alfred Molina, left, and John Lithgow in a scene from 'Love Is Strange'
film
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

eBay's enduring appeal

The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
7 best quadcopters and drones

Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

A descent into madness in America's heartlands

David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home