In any competitive sport, the goal is always to win. To be the best. From the get-go, players are trained to surpass their personal records, making it easy to lose sight of the need to play as a team.
Second-year business student and president of SMU Basketball, Peter Soo, is all too familiar with this silo mentality. He earned his way into the national basketball team with sheer hard work and a determination to be the best.
Today, the dedication remains but how he views life and basketball has changed. Peter looks back on his time with various basketball teams and reveals that if he knew then what he knows now about being a team player, he might have performed better.
When winning was everything
Since he was little, Peter’s love for basketball meant that he chose his schools by the strength of their basketball team. He started to play for school at 13 years old and was soon spotted to join the national team – a dream come true for the young player.
Representing Singapore after just two years of structured training was a steep transition. Peter remembers his awe at the competitiveness of his school team mates.
“We all had this strong desire to win. When we trained on our own and sparred against each other, you could tell how badly each player wanted to win and perform our best. When I joined the national team, it was even more intense. It was a whole new level of competitiveness.”
The wake-up call
Peter constantly gave his all during trainings and performed well. So, it came as a surprise when he was given a pep talk during the 2016 ASEAN University Games.
“My senior told me that my individual skills were one of the best in the team, but I needed to focus on contributing to the team so that the sum of the team becomes greater than its parts.”
Peter started to reflect on his actions and his thought processes during the game. When he joined SMU Basketball, his initial strategy was for his team mates to “give him [me] the ball and he would [I’ll] score it.” But he quickly realised that did not work. Even if he had the ball, he wouldn’t be able to score because he needed the support of his team mates.
Team player mentality
“It takes effort to play like a good team, like in the NBA where the games are well-composed and everything runs smoothly. The only way for us to win is to play as a team. Then, even if we are less skilled as individual players, the team is strong. As my senior said, the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.”
The more Peter competed, the more his perspectives started to shift. Having come from basketball powerhouses, losing was new to him and very humbling. They forced him to think differently.
“I realised that it wasn’t about having the best set of skills, but about being the best player for your team. It was about not putting yourself first but helping your team mates to become better.”
His commitment to the club changed. In his first year, when he was asked to run for the club’s executive committee (exco), Peter was hesitant – he just wanted to play basketball and saw his value in scoring goals. By his second year, he felt compelled to run for president.
“I saw the different types of leadership and how people responded, which was so different from the competitive environment that I was familiar with. Looking at the state of the club, I thought to myself: somebody must do something. I had this desire to step up. So, when I was asked to run for exco this time around, I said: ‘I’m going to run for president.’”
Being selfless takes you further
The first thing that Peter did as president was to consolidate his exco and build a team structure. From his experience as events director in year one, he knew each function of the team intimately and knew what he wanted for each role. Besides participating in more competitions and planning more events, he also introduced four core values to guide the team.
“Dedication, selflessness, trust and humility. I reflected on my past experiences to come up with these values. What I wanted to achieve last time was selfish and went nowhere. To grow as a player and really understand the game, it’s important to think beyond oneself, to be selfless. For instance, if I only care about the number of balls that I can score, I would find myself trapped many times in positions that don’t allow me to score, and fumble.”
A big picture mindset is key to surpassing individual performance on court. It is important to understand how each team mate best contributes to the team and how players can support each other.
“Every move that your team mate makes is important. When you base your decisions on these positions and know how to leverage the strengths of your team mates, you have so many more opportunities in the game.”
While Peter is restructuring the team, he also wants to begin truly giving back and adding value to each member.
“The goal of a club is to provide for its members. Members should be able to improve, learn new things, and feel like they have some sort of support both on and off the court. We want to focus on playing in a way that supports each other, so the tactics that we teach and emphasise are different. We focus on the process rather than just aiming to put balls through the hoop.”
Small steps to big change
This new approach is just taking its first flight. The first phase which started when Peter became president, was to instil tactical knowledge and the basic fundamentals of basketball in each player. After that came the application and practice. With competition season coming up, the team is now gearing up to put knowledge into practice.
The air is thick with anticipation as the third phase rolls around, but Peter is confident. For the first time, the goal is not to win.
“My goal is to achieve – to build up this team, a community, a support system. I want to build a team where the members will want to gather together and be there for each other. Then, we’ll go for the win. All these things contribute to a later goal which is winning.”
Although he is fast rolling out new plans and turning things around in the club, Peter understands that progress takes time. If the team wins, that would be a bonus. But his hope is to start with small improvements along the way, building up good team players that will make a great team.