Balancing team dynamics in an AR (Adventure Racing) is hard, it is what makes the sport special. After hours, nights, and sometimes a week - people change. Personal suffering causes reactions as we are pushed to the brink by the simplest of things or the unthinkable - these reactions can be detrimental to our race and relationships.
I recently raced with a new team, one where I didn’t know much about 2/3 of my teammates. I met our captain, or the race instigator, 'Suz' about 8 days before the event where we spoke for all of the 30 minutes. I then met her partner, 'Fred' on a WhatsApp call the night before the race. Their goal and the reason I joined the team was to help them participate in and complete their first day-long AR. I rallied a good friend 'Rich' to join the team, a semi-experienced guy who had done 2 24 hour races before.
As a team of 4 with loads of excitement and one team WhatsApp call under the belt - we were ready!
You would think, that's madness, you cannot be ready for a 24-hour race and aim for success not knowing your teammates. One WhatsApp call isn't enough. Sure, we had plenty of messages between us and a lekker spreadsheet for gear, but we spent our time focusing on 5 key points that I believe can make any team successful and can ultimately make any race fun and enjoyable for all.
5 Things to talk about with your team!
Don't have personal goals
Going into an AR with personal goals is a cause for some challenging team dynamics. AR is a sport that is designed to strip away the individual. The only time you can have a personal goal is when you and your team have decided they all want that, making it a team goal! Trying to race ahead for a certain time or going to practice your navigation without anyone knowing (as examples) is selfish and is bound to cause some angst in your team when they start to wonder what is going on. Not communicating this and having their buy-in will simply mean your chances of finishing as 4 is very slim. Reminder, finishing as a full team is more important than getting to every checkpoint!
Remove any expectations of others
Expectations are always tricky and very one-sided. Expecting your teammates to perform a certain task or role, race in a certain way, and hope they are fitter or slower than you want leads to extreme pressure on them and build internal frustrations for you, especially when they don't do what you think they are capable of doing! Goin in with a blank canvas - Ask your teammates, no matter how long you have known them fro, where are they now! How fit do they feel, what do they want from this and what do they hope to bring to the team.
Take turns talking about expected lows and highs
One of my favourite things I insist on doing is having a round table discussion about when each teammate expects to feel low or high! The open talk not only allows you to plan for tough moments and hold space for others, but ultimately it allows you to start drawing up a strategy. It can also highlight some strengths you can use to your advantage. Sharing some personal thoughts allows you to open up and feel more bonded as a team. It also removes any expectations!
Identify and commit to specific roles
Every team should have roles and every team member has a role to fill! There are a few common roles; Captain/Strategy, Navigator, Mule, and/or Pathfinder, but you don’t need to stick to them for any particular reason. The idea around roles is that teammates feel included and each member carries a degree of responsibility for the event. Some simpler roles can include; keeping track of liquid intake, keeping up the spirit, double-checking checkpoints, or helping keep track of time in transitions.
Form Team tunnel-vision
It’s so easy to get caught up in what others are doing. As you race, you should expect to run into some unique problems along the way. These can be navigation errors, weather, electric fences or simply a teammate is not feeling 100%. Take it all in your stride and focus on the KM you are in. You never know what the other teams are doing and the consequences or benefits of their decisions. You might see a team heading in a different direction and a teammate may suggest you follow the, but what you might not know is they may be short coursing or looking for water - Don’t follow. Put your blinkers on and hold fast to your race, your strategy, and your challenges at that moment. It is also crucial for your teammates to have and understand the same, you as one unit, have your race!
Looking back at Exp Africa Wakkerstroom, it's probably one of my all-time favourite short events. We entered the race using these simple guidelines and it felt like I had known my teammates for a very long time. We gelled, had moments of laughter, climbed electric fences (got shocked), paddled through storms, watch the sunset, and checked off each leg with a smile and shared intent.
We finished the race as a full team with all checkpoints in 4th place after 20hour of racing together!