The Power of Comradeship: WWII Lessons for Team Sports

Soldiers embracing, symbolizing the comradeship during WWII and its lessons for team sports.

In the heart of winter, I often find solace in books. This time, I was drawn to Rutger Bregman’s compelling book, ‘Most People are Good’ (original: ‘De Meeste Mensen Deugen’). Among its pages, a riveting tale from World War II unveiled insights that extend beyond warfare – they shed light on the essence of team sports.

Read more: The Power of Comradeship: WWII Lessons for Team Sports

The Human Brain & Sports:

While my typical discussions focus on the neural workings of an athlete’s brain, today, we’ll be journeying through the realms of psychology rather than neuropsychology. And surprisingly, our guide on this journey is a World War II narrative that I discovered in Bregman’s book. This story, drawing unexpected parallels between wartime battles and team sports, left me astoundingly inspired.

WWII: More Than Just Battles:

The vast landscape of World War II wasn’t limited merely to frontline combat in trenches and tanks. Behind these palpable confrontations, top-tier scientists were engrossed in devising strategies and innovations, hoping to tip the war in their favor. From the monumental task of decoding the Enigma to the creation of the atomic bomb, their efforts were profound. Among these, psychologists aimed to unravel the German mindset, intending to dismantle it. And for a good reason: German soldiers, as data showed, were causing casualties at rates 50% higher than their Allied counterparts.

The Secret Behind German Soldiers’ Resilience:

Initial theories revolved around intense patriotism. Yet, the truth was far more profound. After Paris’s liberation, interviews with hundreds of prisoners of war revealed that the German army’s formidable strength lay not in their weaponry or strategy but in the bonds of ‘friendship’. As researchers Morris and colleagues concluded, “An army’s might is fundamentally determined by the camaraderie amongst its soldiers.” In essence, friendship became the potent weapon that tipped scales in warfare.

Friendship: A Universal Force in Team Sports:

The horrors of WWII lie decades behind us, but the realization about ‘friendship’ holds universal truth, especially in the world of team sports today. Any coach aspiring to lead a team to victory must cultivate this bond amongst players. Recognizing this, even German generals ensured their battalions formed close bonds before heading into battles.

Bringing this perspective closer to our times, let’s consider Pepijn Lijnders, the assistant at Liverpool, a club currently soaring in England and beyond. He once stated, “I dedicate our Champions League title to our team spirit. It was where everything converged, even during challenging times,” emphasizing the value of camaraderie in achieving victories.

The Essence of Team Building:

While the concept of team building isn’t novel, the significance of camaraderie in achieving success can’t be understated. Numerous techniques and exercises foster this spirit amongst team members. Through this piece, I aim to emphasize that beyond tactics, training, and ideology, the force of friendship can often be the determining factor between victory and defeat. Echoing the sentiments of Louis van Gaal, “It’s not the best players who win, but the best team.”

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