On every team, there is always one or two people who love the dynamic but actually seem bent on messing it up. They might be noisy or obnoxious. They lead intervals too hard or too often, but can’t actually race. Or they might lack social awareness in some strange way.
Comedian Dane Cook does a great bit about ‘that friend’ in your group that nobody likes. He describes the dynamic in which everyone tried to avoid that friend, and then lays it out plainly. “If you don’t believe there is someone in every group like, then guess what, You’re That Person.”
I’ve been a prick more than a few times in life. There have been times when I pissed off teammates. Fortunately, one of them has usually reached out to let me know it was time for a change. During my junior year in college, I’d taken to complaining about the manner in which our team was training. My roommate pulled me aside one night and said, “You know what Cud? You just need to shut up and run.”
And I did that. The result was a string of PRs that winter in indoor track. My mile time dropped 10 seconds. My two mile, more than 15 seconds.
But here’s the funny thing about all that complaining I was doing. I learned later in life that we actually were training too hard. So that weird friend in everyone’s group, or the person who complains all the time? They just might have a purpose. In their obnoxious way, they bring something to the group. It is ours to listen for that.
That did not stop our high school cross country team from imposing a form of martial law on the team to control the weird kids and get them to conform to team dynamics. We would occasionally “hog-tie” a kid with duct tape and his own jock to make the point that they had better stop being so obnoxious.
It was wrong. It was a form of hazing. I don’t believe in hazing of any kind. But at the time, it was considered acceptable in some way to hog-tie teammates who were upsetting the team dynamic.
Come college, we’d sneak around and drop shorts to the ground behind naive freshmen who were off in dreamland. It was our unsubtle way of warning them the world would kick their ass if they weren’t keeping an eye out.
So there are artful and ugly ways to deal with the naive and obnoxious among us. It’s true that some people don’t know they’re persistent stalkers or talkers, and as such, unwelcome in many ways. Some people just aren’t sensitive to verbal cues or body language. So they go on being themselves and people roll their eyes.
But here’s the funny thing. That person who hangs out with the group despite the fact that most don’t like them likely has some evolutionary or social purpose. Because even the goofy wolf with big paws who can’t run fast and has never taken down a deer has a role to perform in the pack. Maybe they’ve got extra sensitive ears, or they can hear prey the other wolves don’t hear.
It proves we can’t be too quick to dismiss the goofballs among us. It is a cruel world in many respects, but even the hang-around geek or the nerd, or the slow guy on the bike and the person whose swimsuit never quite fits have their place in the world has a role to play. You can ride a horse backwards and still get to the same place on time.
TRY TO SHOW RESPECT. EVEN WHEN IT’S HARD TO DO.