Intended for healthcare professionals

Education And Debate

Teams: lessons from the world of sport

BMJ 2000; 321 doi: (Published 04 November 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;321:1141
  1. Michael Brearley, psychoanalyst, former captain of Middlesex and England cricket teams (
  1. 20 Provost Road, London NW3 4ST

    Based on a presentation from the Millennium Festival of Medicine

    “There's no I in team.” But there is and needs to be, and cricket reveals this more sharply than other team games. For cricket, like baseball, could be described, crudely, as a series of individual contests within a team context. When on the many occasions Michael Atherton faced Curtley Ambrose for the first ball of a test match between England and the West Indies, surrounded as the opening batsman is by a ring of rebarbative faces, he will always have been fully aware of the loneliness of his situation. He knew that he had the moral support of his partner 20 yards away, and the implicit, even fervent backing of the other nine members of the team in the dressing room—especially of the next batsman in. It is a team game. But he also had no illusions about the fact that what would happen next was up to him, alone, plus of course the beanpole figure of Curtley Ambrose silhouetted against and above the sight screen 50 yards away.

    So cricket is an individual game par excellence, in which the nation gets an instant view of a player's personal failure, backed up by a written account of it over breakfast the next morning. Yet—again—the character and outcome of these little individual dramas will be influenced by the balance of confidence and morale between the two teams as a whole.

    Summary points

    Good teams consist of groups of strongly characterised individuals

    The art of leading such a team is not to suppress individuality but to harness it to achieve the team's goals

    Individuals in complex interaction

    Without vivid and unique “I's” a team is flat, uniform, stereotyped. It is a repressed, grey team, a team without desires, passions, jealousies. A small example: when Middlesex played Northants in …

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