Building team culture and chemistry have been a top priority for Cameron James and Sian Gillam in recent months.
With a busy schedule of training — basketball and netball during the week, then touch football at the weekend — James and Gillam have been co-organising the team of Monash University student-athletes preparing to compete in the Indigenous Nationals at the Clayton campus in Naarm this week.
James learned about the importance of "the chemistry aspect of the team" through experience: he joined the Monash Indigenous Nationals team last year and quickly became co-organiser of the 2023 team.
"We're trying to build team chemistry and get people to know each other for better performance during the event,” he says.
Strategies for building chemistry include fostering a sense of team belonging by giving each athlete a certain role to play.
“To give you an example, one guy is our weatherman or our meteorologist,” he says.
“His role is to give us the weather for the next day if we're training offline."
James has also prioritised social interaction.
“We bring food to training sessions. People can eat all together afterwards," he says, so team-mates can talk casually and "get to know each other more".
“We also organise little social events. Some of the team went to watch professional league netball.”
As the Monash team co-organiser, a student-athlete and a fourth-year commerce and finance student, James has needed his own strategies for organising several tasks at the same time.
“I’ve got lives outside of Monash. But being able to balance that is just a case of prioritisation,” he says.
“There’s a saying that I’ve always lived by: If you want something done, you gotta be a busy person to get it done."
Fellow co-organiser Sian Gillam predicts a positive result at this year's games, based on the team chemistry they have built.
"We have had a few team dinners and things, so everyone can get to know each other and feel comfortable as part of the team," Gillam says.
Getting to know each other fosters an understanding of the players' strengths and what they can improve, she says. And everyone in the team tries to cover each other's weaknesses.
"I think we are probably most comfortable playing netball as a team, and last year’s team did quite well on that day," she says.
"We are probably still learning touch football, as it isn’t a very common sport in Victoria, so we had a lot of learning to do.
"Cam is good at touch football and he has been working very hard to help his teammates to adjust the rules and skills of it."
James says he is immensely proud of his Indigenous heritage — of which he learned at age 16, after his mother discovered it during a conversation with his uncle.
Curious about his family background, James tried to learn more.
“My brother and I went down to Mount Gambier, which is where our mob is from, to meet some of the aunties and uncles.
“I think we had, like, third cousins down there that we didn't even know existed, second cousins that we didn't know existed.”
The Indigenous Nationals offers participants and spectators a prime opportunity to celebrate and learn more about Australia's rich Indigenous heritage.
Stay tuned for the next Indigenous Nationals instalment, which will highlight First Nations cultures.
This story was written in cooperation with the William Cooper Institute at Monash.
Written by Dongyun Kwon