Parents, desperate for academic results from their children, often query why we require all our pupils to play sport and the reason is simple, apart from the very obvious factors of developing physical fitness (which is vital for mental fitness) and providing enjoyment (as a strong motivational factor in life). We play sport for the invaluable lessons we discover through competition, [see the article “Competing Disorders”]. We have to know how to face opposition, to tackle obstacles and to overcome adversity. It is not so much a matter of beating others but rather about improving ourselves by being pushed and challenged. The value is immense though there is the obvious danger of over-indulgence.

Then, some parents also question why we focus on team sports and once again the reason is simple, in addition to the reasons above. We play team sport for the invaluable lessons we discover about cooperation. Team sport is all about playing as a team, working as a unit, about being together. Mo Rocca, an American writer and actor, understood when he said ruefully: “I wish I had played team sports. I think every kid should. Teamwork builds character – teaches people about leadership and cooperation.” Such lessons are crucial and fundamental for all spheres of life, and are not taught in the formal academic curriculum. We have to learn to work together, to live together and to sing together. As Aristotle said hundreds of years ago, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts” – each individual plays an important part but the value is only fulfilled when all parts work together with one purpose and direction.

In 1998 Mark Taylor was the captain and opening batsman of the Australian cricket team playing against Pakistan in the Second Test match. At the end of two solid days of batting he had reached the score of 334 not out, a score that was hugely significant for any Australian cricketer as it was the highest score made by the greatest cricketer of all-time, the legendary Australian batsman, Sir Don Bradman. To the great surprise of many people, the next morning Taylor declared the Australian innings closed at 599 for 4, thus depriving himself of the chance of breaking the record. Australian sportsmen are widely known for being fiercely competitive so the decision puzzled many. His response was clear and emphatic: “I’ve always said to people that you’re there to try and win games of cricket. I wanted to declare to give us a chance to win because we’d won the first Test and if we’d won that Test we would have won the series. As it turns out we didn’t win the Test (the match ended in a draw), but I think I sent the right message to the team and to the people who watch at home.”

Jonathan Haidt (a social psychologist and Professor of Ethical Leadership at New York University’s Stern School of Business) has stated that “The most powerful force ever known on this planet is human cooperation – a force for construction and destruction.” Cooperation is powerful because it combines all the parts of the team together; two people pushing against each other nullifies progress but two people pulling in the same direction eliminates friction and increases traction. In addition, all parts working together in cooperation complement each individual part, as the apostle Paul emphasised in his first letter to the Corinthians when he spoke about the different parts of the body. Cooperation is also about carrying each other, when one is struggling, knowing that another time the one being carried may do the carrying.

The message is very simple and obvious – one of the most important lessons we will ever learn at school is to work in cooperation with others, even with all our differences, wherever we are placed together in a community. Our differences must complement each other, not compete against each other, if together we are to succeed. We as schools need to understand that we are not competing against each other but are cooperating with each other, for the education of our children and for the development of the country – the name or success of the school does not  matter. We are all involved in education; we are all playing our part to bring all the young people of this country on.

Some may question though how you can be competitive and cooperative. In the Business Directory [ ] we read that “Competition emphasises assertiveness and minimises cooperation” – if you are going to compete you cannot help the opposition but of course it is not the opposition you are going to help; it is your team-mates. Competition is concerned with AGAINST; cooperation deals with ALONGSIDE. It is a difficulty that has been found especially in Formula One motorsport where two drivers from each team are competing against each other as well as drivers from other teams – there is an individual world champion and a team world champion. The difficulty has come when two drivers from one team compete against each other as individuals, and thus perhaps risk causing an accident to one or both of them, yet they are also trying to beat other teams. Then they are faced with team orders.

Competition is vital; so too is cooperation. Our youngsters must be taught both and they must be taught where both fit in. Someone once defined it like this: “If you want to be incrementally better: Be competitive. If you want to be exponentially better: Be cooperative.” Interestingly, Franklin D. Roosevelt, the 32nd President of the United States, commented that “Competition has been shown to be useful up to a certain point and no further, but cooperation, which is the thing we must strive for today, begins where competition leaves off.” We must learn to combine competition and cooperation if we are to live healthily. Bryant McGill wrote insightfully in his book ‘Voice of Reason’ that “We must re-programme ourselves to understand that cooperation is a higher principle than competition.” That is a message that Mark Taylor understood and sought to get across. He was part of a team which was competing against another team and his team would suffer if as an individual within the team he acted on his own. He would have gained incrementally, perhaps, little by little, if he had carried on batting; the team gained exponentially, by his cooperation.

It is not so much Team Orders that should concern us but the realisation that being a Team will bring Order – and in business terms that will bring orders!