Article by Vaughn Anderson
W hy are the benefits of teamwork not obvious to everyone? Why do so many have difficulty maneuvering effectively within teams? Is traditional schooling capable of properly teaching teamwork?
Recently I read that changes in behavior, even positive ones, are processed as stress.Our bodies fight against change, explaining why bad habits are so hard to break. Habits from youth stick with us, becoming second nature early on. As a dad now, I’ve started to think more about these critical years in my son’s life, and memories of my own childhood have surfaced. Recalling the theme of my early life, competitive hockey, I just now recognize the value of that experience.
My first attempt at becoming a pro athlete was not through fighting, but through ice hockey in Canada. It was hockey that taught me the most about teamwork—a transferable skill that continues to give me tremendous advantages in sport, as well as in social and professional situations. As it is in the game of chess, where the most powerful units are neutralized by the synergy of weaker ones, in hockey, selfish talent is no match for the synergy of a well-synchronized team. Teamwork is what this sport is based on, unintentionally teaching this valuable life skill that kids take with them into adulthood.Only now recognizing where my dedication to teamwork comes from proves that long ago it had already become second nature for me.
If our national hockey team brings home silver medals from the Olympics, coaches are brought in front of the public to explain, “What went wrong?” For Canadian society, anything less than hockey world dominance is seen as failure. Youth hockey there is extremely competitive. Kid players, their parents, and coache sall gamble heavily with their emotions. This is not a game kids play only for fun. Pressure to win, even at a young age, is very high. Like water in a rice terrace, this pressure to be the best trickles down from the top, flooding the psyche of those involved at all levels of the sport.
High costs and considerable amounts of time spent driving kids to games leaves little money or time for families to do much else. A boy’s hockey development usually doubles as his parent’s pastime. Attention to detail is overwhelming in Canadian youth hockey.We all owned blowtorches used to carefully modify the curve on our sticks, never accepting the factory mold. We brought sharpening stones to each game to maintain the cleanest edges on our skates. Post-game analyses were incredibly detailed, and by the age of nine we were fluently using terms like “overconfidence” to describe collective errors.
To stay competitive, our summers were spent at hockey camps, costing parents a fortune and robbing kid’s of outdoor fun during the short Canadian summers. We accepted vicious lectures from coaches, understanding early that personal contributions affected something greater than any individual player. Our families investments, our coach’s reputation, our teammates’ futures were all at stake. Once our coach campaigned parents to shell out more money to buy kids matching slacks, sweaters, and team jackets. I remember well his insistence that arriving at arenas dressed formally would intimidate the opposing kids, justifying the expense. You can see now the tremendous effort put into “recreational” hockey in Canada, and understand how these kids grow to become the best players in the world. Hopefully, too, you now recognize the value of extremely competitive sports as an education far more effective in certain areas than traditional schooling.
Years after my hockey education, I’ve continued to be part of several successful teams. My years at Taiwan BJJ were the team’s strongest. Those days I assisted with coaching and the team amassed more trophies than at any time before or since. I remember my poorest days as a fighter, donating a fight bonus of two thousand dollars to the team when asked to, with only five hundred bucks left to my name and no money coming in. Camaraderie does not only involve the good days, it has no effect if the bad days aren’t shared as well. I am pleased that my time as part of the coaching staff at Legacy Gym were the years it was the strongest fight team in Southeast Asia.
I’m also proud to have seen many victories coaching Xi’an Sport University’s sanda team.During those two years the team’s MMA win/loss ratio was outstanding, possibly the best in the history of Chinese MMA at that time. Seeing fighters from that team finally reach the UFC and bring home national belts were rewarding moments in my life. Fighters were surprised that I cancelled holidays to help them prepare for events, and people didn’t understand why I never asked for a percentage of their winnings.
The team concept dominates my thoughts to this day, and, though I am not rich, the fighters needed that money more than I did. Most Chinese athletes give money to their parents, a burden, thankfully, I never had. We all enjoy an easy life here in China because of the hard work previous generations have done for this country. They may not be my parents, but I am still grateful for the sacrifices they made for today’s China. By not taking a cut of their winnings, I was, in a small way, able to salute these fighters’ families.
As for hockey, it became too time-consuming for my family. Unable to join a more competitive, further-traveling team, I quit playing hockey, frustrated that success was out of my control. In the end, it was not lack of talent that killed my dream. That final lesson hockey taught me was painful but valuable: there is no such thing as individual success.
I don’t take sole credit for the success of teams I’ve been a part of, but am satisfied with my contribution to them all. I believe the values I learned early in life through competitive sports have strengthened my ability to influence group successin any setting. Consider the educational value of sports when guiding your kids’ upbringing. Let them learn the benefits of teamwork and other life lessons through this tangible format. Allow defeat to break their hearts and coach them through overcoming those setbacks. Filling the gaps of formal schooling through sports is much safer than risking the consequences of your kids never learning these valuable skills on their own.
Vaughn Anderson is a former professional MMA fighter, coach, and commentator.
He is the president of Warlord Athletics.