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What Do You Want in a Team Culture

Being on a college team will become a central part of your collegiate experience.  Your teammates would be your de facto family and help with your transition to college life.  You’ll be spending a lot of time with them at practice six days per week, at weekly meets as well as traveling for meets that often involve long hours on a bus or flying, and most likely live and dine with them.  You’ll be guided by your older teammates on courses and professors to take, the workouts, and performance matters.  You’ll hang out with your fellow freshman teammates and share your newfound independence, milestones and anxieties with them.  The quality of your experience will depend on how well you fit into the team culture.  Therefore, you should seriously consider what characteristics are most important for you to have in a team.  

Track and field teams are microcosms of society, where members are navigating life affairs such as politics, religion, sexuality, and biases, with pervasive use of social media.  Some institutions, by virtue of their location or affiliation, could lean heavily in certain directions on these matters, as could their teams.   On some teams, the majority of the members and even the coaches are of the same religion, where they might even worship together.  Other teams have their one day off on a weekday and hold team practices on both Saturday and Sunday, making in-person religious worship on a sabbath day challenging.  That might be less of a point for a team at an institution that does not have that culture.  


Racial diversity is a characteristic that many recruits say they are looking for in a track and field team.  They might find that opportunity in a team that is large and recruits athletes in most, if not all, of the track and field event groups.  However, it’s possible to be on a large team and not experience much diversity. Teammates often socialize within their event groups, so that sprinters, who tend to be mostly black, hang out among themselves and distance runners, who tend to be predominantly white, hang out among themselves, with the two groups hardly ever mixing.  Middle distance runners are the ones most likely to cross the divide, along with jumpers and throwers.

That said, some teams are proactive in promoting team bonding around some shared goals.  Coaches and team captains set a tone for unifying the team by hosting fun team get-to-know-you activities.  At meets, you see energetic displays of team spirit across event groups.  Some recruits highlight team spirit in their search for the right team for them.

While some teams are diverse, other teams are distinctly uniform in that their programs are known to be dominant in certain events, like distance, sprints, hurdles, jumps, or throws.  In being recruited by these types of teams, it’s important to consider if your event is one of the dominant events or if it’s a marginal event for team scoring.  This could affect how many training partners you’ll have, the amount of resources invested in supporting your event, and your likeliness to have direct contact with the head coach.  

Conversely, if you’re being recruited for a team that is stocked with high-performing athletes in your event, you can expect highly intensive competition in training.  This brings out the best in some athletes, while others fall prey to injuries trying to keep up.  On some teams, a lot of injuries may be considered less problematic because there is an abundance of athletes remaining who could represent the team.  You should consider the history of the amount of injuries in your event area to see what patterns are apparent.  The effects of sports injuries suffered during college could linger way beyond graduation.

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