"Why are Indians poor at team sports? Why don’t we win at hockey or football?" The answer, according to Aakar Patel’s column in The Mint, is that “we cannot understand harmony. That’s why we are poor at things that require selfless interaction, like team sports. Indians do not have the instinct of acting in concert. We find it difficult to put the other person ahead of ourselves even if both might benefit. This lack of harmony isn’t limited to sports, it is inherent: We see it every day in our mindless traffic sports.”
We might win at cricket, but that’s hardly a team sport. A twenty over match is nothing but an aggregate of 240 one-ball encounters between batsman and bowler. So, someone like Sachin I-don’t play-for-records- I-play-for-my-country Tendulkar can be perfectly happy with his century, even if his team doesn’t win.
To perform harmoniously as a cohesive unit, different components of that unit must come to the self-realisation that they are in it together for a common purpose. In this case, the common objective is that the team must win. How does this sense of collaboration emerge in each of the components?
Nicholas Humphrey, on 'watching his baby son thrashing around in his crib, two arms flailing, hands grasping randomly, legs kicking the air, head and eyes turning this way and that, a smile followed by a grimace crossing his face', wrote a brilliant, meditative piece wondering when and how the different parts of the baby would perform together harmoniously as in an orchestra?
Ask any orchestral player, and he’ll tell you: although it may perhaps look to an outsider as if the conductor is totally in charge, in reality he often has a quite minor – even a purely decorative – role. Sure, he can provide a common reference point to assist the players with the timing and punctuation of their playing. And he can certainly influence the overall style and interpretation of a work. But that is not what gets the players to belong together. What truly binds them into one organic unit and creates the flow between them is something much deeper and more magical: namely, the very act of making music; that they are together creating a single work of art.
Doesn’t this suggest a criterion for “belonging” that should be much more widely applicable: that parts come to belong to a whole just in so far as they are participants in a common project?
Try the definition where you like: What makes the parts of an oak tree belong together – the branches, roots, leaves, acorns ? They share a common interest in the tree’s survival.What makes the parts of a complex machine like an aeroplane belong to the aeroplane – the wings, the jet engines, the radar? They participate in the common enterprise of flying. Then, here’s the question: What makes the parts of a person belong together – if and when they do? The clear answer has to be that the parts will and do belong together just in so far as they are involved in the common project of creating that person’s life.
To go back to Aakar Patel’s column, teamwork cannot be brought about by a team leader or imposed from above. It can come only when there is self-realisation in every member that he/she is collaborating on a common project of winning a match. Perhaps, such a realization evades Indians. That’s why we may produce an occasional world champion in billiards, badminton or chess, all in individual capacities. But team events such as hockey and football leave us thrashing around, arms flailing, legs kicking randomly, head and eyes turning this way and that…………….