The Value of Mutual Support

It is a commonly held stance that school communities should promote core ethical and performance values as key to good character (Principle 1). Holding core values that build character are not for schools alone. For example, the core values of the Paralympics are Determination, Inspiration, Courage, and Equality, held alongside the Olympic core values of Friendship, Respect, and Excellence. These are values that most sports organisations and athletes would say hold true to their sports spirit, aims, and goals. As a member of the Paralympic swim team I was exposed, regularly, to the core values mentioned above, and it was these core values that continue to be reflected through out my life as an adult.

Development of character through sports can be quite contentious, in fact Lumpkin (2011) implies that sport in itself doesn’t develop character, but it is the relationships and role modelling of coaches, fellow athletes, friends, and family that illustrate and develop character traits in sport. I agree with him, especially in light of the development of core values, and how this translates to character development, especially relating to my first hand experience of Olympic and Paralympic values through the team. It is the word team here that is important and the structure within which the values, relationships, and role modelling occurs. Team goes beyond the Olympics, Paralympics, and sport though, in fact, we are collected together in teams all of our lives, whether that be the team of family, school, university, and/or work.

In the VIA Character Strengths teamwork is considered a character strength that we all have. It encompasses citizenship and prosocial behaviours, supporting others, proactive participation, and loyalty to the group. When we tap into and develop teamwork we can build mutual trust and improve our behaviours when it comes to social responsibility. Beyond this impact, teamwork is primarily about community and flourishing together as an interdependent group, made up of many skills and talents, striving for the same thing.

As a member of the Australian Paralympic Swim team I was part of a collective of individuals who were striving for the same goals, the same aims, and together we were stepping forward with mutual support, friendship, and hope. Through the ups and downs of elite sport, where each athlete had to show resilience, self regulation, determination, focus, and perseverance, it was through the connections and relationships that you were encouraged to continue on a long and difficult journey to achieve your goals. I made many mistakes in my career, ranging from swimming the wrong stroke in one of my first races (nerves can make you do some very embarrassing things) through to false starting a race at the Sydney 2000 Paralympic Games (lucky for me in the Paralympics you get a second chance). Without the structure of team around me and the loyalty and support I received from my fellow swimmers, through to the coaches and medical staff, I doubt that I could’ve bounced back from these mistakes quite as easily. Since retiring from sport I have gone onto other careers and studies, again, making mistakes along the way, but having a replication of these team characteristics and values throughout these areas of my life have enabled me to get back up from epic fails.

Now working primarily in schools with teachers through my organisation Resilience Wellbeing Success, having co-authored “Character Toolkit for Teachers”, and started Character Club on twitter, I always include the topic of team and teamwork and how important it is in the context of school, work, and the wider community. The importance of having shared values, of supporting each other, and raising each other up, you raise the whole community and provide opportunity for character development to all. This is why team is relevant to all of us, no matter our age, gender, ethnicity, and employment. In fact, no matter where we are in life, raising a family, working in an office, or competing in a sport, all are opportunities to practice and develop team and teamwork. Embracing core values and character traits at a team level will see all flourish, just as I saw us all flourish and thrive on the Paralympic Swim Team, showing that we can all reach our potential together.

Lumpkin, A. (2011) ‘Building Character through Sports.’ Strategies 24, 6, 13-15

Elizabeth Wright

Elizabeth Wright

Elizabeth is a Paralympic Medalist, speaker, Character Education advocate, and co-founder of character and positive education program Resilience Wellbeing Success. Elizabeth competed at 2 Paralympic Games and walking away with 3 Paralympic medals. Elizabeth is now completing her MA in Character Education at Birmingham University.

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