Issue 32: Team Tirades – Team Spirit

This edition of Team Tirades inspired me to discuss the things that really make a team go… Throw aside the kites, the gear and the routine… What do you have? A handful of humans trying to accomplish the same thing. One of the binding aspects of a team is realization, and perspective because you are sharing the sky and relying on others to help complete the total package.

Through the 80s and 90s you could count on seeing at least one or two teams at almost every event, often several regulars would show up at larger competitions all over the country to go head-to-head… Most of whom disbanded in the late 90s and later. Much like the dinasaur, they seemed to experience near-extinction in the USA for some reason. While our economy plays a large part, I feel that mentality is often the major contributing factor.

We had 10 masters class teams represent their regions at the AKA Grand Nationals in Dayton this year, which is truly wonderful… Now it’s time to observe the dynamics and try to evolve away from outdated habits and team break-ups.

For years I’ve watched teams come and go on a regular basis, seen incredible successes and horrible failures, pure synchronized teamwork and total mutiny… This edition of Team Tirades is designed to address the true psychology of a team and how to make it work for you and your teammates.

Reasons people fly team

I myself originally joined a team for a few reasons… Mostly it was to feel that rush of working with others on something I love as often as possible. I had clearly in mind the prestige that an accomplished team can produce at a festival… I wanted to be super cool like team High Performance or Top of the Line, and to build the inherent kiting skills through the added experience. If you’re lucky, you and your teammates are friends and then you can really make the best of it.

When you’re forming a team or interviewing new members, be real and direct… Ask them what motivated them to consider flying team, and have everyone involved clearly understand what they want or expect out of it. You’ll often disagree, but a good team often does and uses that to build a stronger rapport through negotiation.

Motivations may vary

Some people simply aren’t cut out to fly together… One may be flying team for fun on the weekends, and another is dreaming of being the next world team champion… I cannot stress enough the importance of identifying each other’s stance in regard to what the team direction is, also how much time and energy they’re willing to expend to get there.

How teammates interact

Consider the social and psychological dynamics of a sport kite team… Don’t just interact on “auto pilot”, conscious thought equals conscious action.

If you can’t stop and see the real issue sometimes, just take a break to avoid any blow-ups… You’ll do better calm, and have more to look back on.

Team personality

Having compared a number of teams over the years, it occurs to me that many of the most successful have carried with them different and distinct personalities as a group… Essentially a certain presentation which conveys the mood, tempo and style of the team. It also creates a trademark theme by which a team is readily recognized, making their presence even more memorable.

Where to start?

Well… Naturally it’s implied that all your kites should match, alternate or have an otherwise clear pattern of thought behind the colors and theme.

Many teams also elect to go with matching jackets, hats, kite bags, sunglasses or any number of other accessories, depending on their goal and available budget.

Even how you come on and off the field defines who you are as a team… Some just wander out randomly and set up their kites in an unplanned and staggered fashion. Others however might elect to walk out loosely grouped, set up their kites in formation, and launch together… Do you think this might reflect on the team’s goals, methodology and closeness as a group?

A few past and current examples of team spirit:

Bay Area Sundowners – San Francisco CA USA
Like a team of stunt plane pilots, light hearted yet very serious about the quality of their shows and field presence as a performance team… Always working together. After almost two decades, they still thrive on professional demonstrations at air shows and other large events worldwide in lieu of any championship goals. Their gear reflects the team colors which are yellow, orange and red (as you might depict a sunset), set on white.

Chicago Fire – Greater Chicago IL USA
As one of the oldest USA team still in operation (since 1986), captain Eric Wolff has maintained this group with determination and the help of many Chicago area fliers over the years… Having represented the USA at the World Cup, these guys maintain by having a close social structure at home. Yellow and black are their predominant colors.

High Performance – Honolulu HI USA
A dedicated championship team, HP spent countless hours practicing towards the end of winning back to back World Cups in the mid-90’s… They retired around 1994. The common denominator on this team was an excellent overall skill level with every member having won individual masters events regularly. Their gear was predominantly teal with white and purple trim.

Captain Eddie’s Flying Circus – Columbus OH USA
Named after one of America’s first flying aces, Captain Eddie Rickenbacker. Primarily a fun team for a number of years, CEFC brought in some individual talent in 1997 to assist in winning the national championship and going to World Cup… They retired at the end of the same season. With a care free attitude and focus on having fun first, they coined their own signature team huddle, the “schwing!” as well as the term “it’s just kites, man”.

Balancing team with family

Just a relatively simple effort can solidify a team, and help keep your family from feeling alienated… Here are some ideas.

Barbeques – Get together as a group for food and fun… If your respective families get along then bring the kids! Make your team about more than kites, you don’t have to hold hands or anything but it does give you the opportunity to build those bonds and trust in one another.

Fun flying – Every once in awhile, take one of your normal practice days and fly just for fun and leisure instead… Maybe teach the wife or kids, it’s not indy racing (anyone can do it). An old teammate of mine (Terry Thurston) and I used to play horse with our kites, I’d do a combo of moves and he’d try to imitate it and whoever does not complete the series gets a letter, just like shooting hoops.

Video sessions – Watch tapes of your practices or other teams over your choice of refreshments, together at home once or twice a month. Take notes, make any needed revisions and hang out, just make sure you’re in a room where you are all comfortable and give your family a view into the bond your team shares, as well as how it actually contributes to your temperment and well-being when you are at home with your family.

Why teams break up

There are usually two real non-negotiable reasons, and a whole slew of rationales…

  1. Too expensive… For travel, hotel, registration and some times a rental car it can add up quickly.
  2. Too much time off… Very few employers are understanding, and even if you’re self-employed you still have to do business.

Aside from these two denominators, most any other reason is derived from a lack of understanding, burn out from pushing too hard, flying without a mission or intent behind it and frustration with varying skill levels… Some more ideas:

Stay in budget – Don’t over-extend yourself, and agree on where that line is at the outset… There’s no point in taking out another loan, the point is to have fun while keeping a safe and happy home.

Walk away – If someone is getting really agitated during practice, try to establish a team rule allowing for and understanding the occasional need for anyone to simply walk away for a minute… With the idea, “it’s just kites, man”.

Be prompt – Nothing frustrates and alienates a team like waiting for a member who is repeatedly late. If your schedule changes or is inconsistent, it’s invaluable to keep your teammates sincerely informed otherwise you’re assuming responsibility for the time they are taking out of their lives to fly with you.

Synchronize – Occasionally re-establish a clear understanding of why each member joined and what motivates them to fly and perform… Just discussing this can relax a team and give them better rapport, making for better flying.

Before you go out for your big season, set goals and come to a firm agreement on what it is that you’re trying to accomplish, and how far you’ll go to do it. Not everyone can fly together, and it’s best to identify these differences beforehand.

What I’m trying to say is that visualization and clear intent is the key to accomplishing your goals, try to consciously remember why you and your teammates fly together, and create a theme that fuels that mission and suits your personalities.

See you on the field,

John Barresi

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