As a West Coast supporter who watched my club’s win its 4th AFL premiership, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the last week.
Yet despite my love for West Coast, there are vital lessons to be taken from this year’s runner up–Collingwood–that carry pertinent implications for identitarianism.
For readers not well versed on the intricacies of AFL, some context appears in order. Collingwood is the most powerful club in the AFL, coached by its legendary former captain–Nathan Buckley. While a great player endowed with an aptitude for individual success; Buckley’s tenure as coach has been far from ideal. After 6 years in the top job and Collingwood’s ladder position worsening with each year he coached, Buckley was considered a “dead man walking” at the end of 2017.
Facing an uncertain future, Buckley changed tack prior to the 2018 season by drawing motivation from cyclist Svein Tuft. In the documentary All for One, Buckley saw Tuft tell his story of packing up all belongings and riding solo around the vast Canadian back country, living on just a few dollars a day.
In his address to the playing group at the commencement of the 2018 pre-season, Buckley subsequently placed a quote from Tuft up on the big screen: “We come from tribal communities and we like to be connected. Most of us are still searching for a group of people that are going to do something special.”
Upon realising the playing group had to become more connected, Buckley eased off the obsessive perfectionism that defined his playing career; focusing more on his players as people, rather than performers. Buckley found the more the year went on, the more he asked himself “Whether I’m connected enough? Whether I feel like I was contributing as much as I want to?”
Largely established by their reinvigorated coach, Collingwood attained an authentic sense of connectedness and group identity. In doing so, the club went from finishing a dismal 13th in 2017, to being just one kick away from an AFL premiership in 2018.
From this tremendous turnaround, there are various points to be deduced about the role of group identity, including:
- Like other animals, humans are tribalist beings that crave belonging. Forming identity groups is as natural to humans as objects falling after being dropped from the sky. With this innate inclination, we should proactively seek out positive forms of identity; for in their absence, less constructive versions may emerge;
- It is highly sensical that individuals with shared interests should form tight-knit groups;
- When people come together, they can cohesively unite in such a way as to promote beneficial feelings of group identity as well as enhance the individual; and
- What the group can achieve, is often necessarily greater than what an individual can, as it engages more people and energy working towards a broader, shared goal. This is precisely why premiership triumphs are held in higher esteem than Brownlow or Coleman medals.
Now, should our support for AFL teams be used to transplant other important forms of identity, expressed in racial, ethnic, cultural, religious or moral terms? No.
But in comprehending the role of group identity in sport, we are better placed to ponder this topic’s application to various other fields.
Acknowledgements go to the Herald Sun’s ‘Zen Warrior’ piece written by Jay Clark on the 29th of September, for the insightful quotes re-published above.