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“I’m really happy that this race symbolized something – the team spirit, the team playership – and that people from different situations – professionals, non-professionals, people who are not into sports – really see it and it really connects people” - Jolien Boumkwo
At the European Athletics Championships last week, when her colleagues were injured and unable to race, Jolien Boumkwo stepped forward to compete in a race she had not run for over 10 years. The 12 time national champion is not new to performing on the European stage, but she is a shot putter and was about to become a hurdler: “I’m not made for hurdling”.
Jolien decided to fill the gap left by her injured colleagues as she had the bigger picture in mind. Completing the race would secure vital points for Belgium and their fight to remain in the top division of European athletics: “I was like: it would be a pity if just we would lose by one point so I will just take this on my account and just go for it and enjoy every moment.”
Jolien’s decision is a clear demonstration of putting the team and the mission before herself. She steps far outside her comfort zone for the team. She chose to put herself at risk of ridicule and embarrassment so that her team would benefit.
Teamwork, being the collective action towards a shared goal or objective, is the opportunity for us to be a part of something bigger. Being a team player is a choice, it is the choice to put a group before yourself. To be humble in thought and action.
Stepping onto the track she knew her objective and how that objective contributed to the overall mission of Belgium at the tournament – she did not need to win, or place, but to show up, to contribute, and to secure points for Belgium.
The expectations for Jolien were clear, she needed to take part, this clarity enabled Jolien to have fun outside her comfort zone. How often is that possible?!
It was also clear that Jolien is not a hurdler. The thing that she was asked to do for the team is not her specialism, it is not what she has trained to do, it is not an activity she has a passion for. This clarity of who Jolien is, and is not, enabled her teammates, supporters, and observers to celebrate her contribution and be inspired by her example – a contribution that in other circumstances would be seen as poor as her time was very slow compared to the other athletes.
Without the context of who Jolien is, that she was contributing far outside her skillset, or that her goal was to participate, it would be possible for people to mock her time of 32 seconds against the winner’s time of 13 seconds.
Bringing awareness, understanding, and clarity to our teams enables us to celebrate the contributions of people that are putting the team first and contributing outside of their skillsets or passions. If we know a team member is frustrated by a certain task but volunteers to do that task because it is needed by the team, that person should be celebrated.
Teamwork is putting other’s before yourself. It requires taking risks and making sacrifices for a larger collective goal.
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