Yet the fostering of teamwork remains something of a holy grail among training professionals. Proving yourself a safe “team player” is more likely to get you promoted than any number of inspired, maverick ideas that might outshine the boss.
The extent to which this ethic has become ingrained in society was betrayed this week in a survey by the school examination board, AQA. More than three in five young people, it said, wished they had been assessed in “life skills” such as teamwork and communication in their GCSEs instead of harebrained subjects like maths or English. In other words, they would rather have submitted to the lowest common denominator of mediocrity than try to prove themselves better.
That’s quite dispiriting. But it’s not surprising when you look at some of their role models.
Take football – one of the few disciplines in which the merits of teamwork are beyond question, and a game populated by individuals who are placed on a pedestal by countless millions. In some cases this is deserved; in others it is not remotely justified.
If Marcus Rashford is at one end of the scale, those England players who have refused to be vaccinated against Covid are at the other.
It emerged this week that five current members of the national team remain unjabbed, with three refusing outright to take the needle. Only Tammy Abraham has confirmed he has done so. One of his teammates, meanwhile, has reportedly fallen prey to a conspiracy theory on social media that the vaccine is a tool used by governments to spy on the public.
How dim do you have to be to take claptrap like that at face value? It’s even less likely than the other popular belief amongst the terminally gullible that the medication contains a chip put there by the Microsoft founder Bill Gates – a theory rather undermined by the fact that Microsoft can’t even make a reliable version of Windows.
Just what is it that the England refuseniks are afraid of? That they will instinctively fall to the ground and writhe around in feigned agony after a prick in the arm and that no-one with a bucket and sponge will come to their aid?
We’re talking about a minority of players here, but it’s a sizeable one. Certainly it’s big enough to make a mockery of the concept of teamwork.
But that has always been football’s problem. At its highest level, it indulges excessive and anti-social behaviour by individuals who are exceptionally talented in one area but who lack the life skills to get from one bank of an imaginary river to the other.
And while an extramarital affair here or there, or a debauched night out with the boys, might be written off as youthful high spirits, the same cannot be said of spreading dangerous theories that they do not understand and which are damaging to the public wellbeing.
How quickly, I wonder, would the conspiracy theories melt away if the footwear manufacturers, drinks firms and others with whom they hold lucrative sponsorship contracts were to withdraw their money.
That would not be without precedent. In 2010, Coca-Cola ended its sponsorship deal with Wayne Rooney after a series of stories about his private life. It was “not appropriate” to continue to link his name with the product, said the company. Other corporations might now want to calculate the reputational damage amongst those of us with a grain of sense, in continuing to associate their brands with anti-vaxxers.
The Football Association has been remarkably relaxed about the whole thing, saying only that vaccinations are “a private matter for individuals”. Again, so much for teamwork.
Instead, it has fallen to the Health Secretary, Sajid Javid, to state the obvious – that it was up to footballers to encourage others to make decisions based on sense, not nonsense.
I wouldn’t normally advocate a team building session to anyone, but it does seem the England camp could use one right now – with the mavericks in the room asking some searching questions of the short planks sitting next to them.
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