What this choir guy learned about “team” from a sports tournament

Dan Cantiller
5 min readFeb 9, 2024

February 9, 2024

View from our hotel room at Flamingo Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas

A couple weeks ago, I headed to Las Vegas for the Sin City Classic — apparently the largest 2SLGBTQ+ sporting event in the world, even larger than the Gay Games. Anyone who knows me would be like “But why, Dan? You, a non-sportsy guy/gay?” No, I wasn’t there to tear it up on the court/field/[insert applicable playing area]. I was there to cheer on my partner and his volleyball team.

My partner and his volleyball team, the Volley Poppers

Being partner-in-tow for the weekend at this tournament meant early mornings, a lot of sitting, some cheering, and snapping plenty of team and action pics and video clips — all of which I was happy to do. Volleyball is one of those sports that I actually enjoy watching, though I don’t watch games regularly.

You see, I’m more of an artsy guy/gay. I grew up taking piano lessons and tap-dance lessons. And as long as I can remember, I’ve been part of choirs in some form. Whether church choirs or community ones, I’ve always been singing. I even attended a choir school for grades school, which included concert tours mostly around Canada and the US, and special opportunities to perform for such dignitaries as the late Pope John Paul II and Queen Elizabeth II.

Years ago, I wrote a reflection article about what I’ve learned about teamwork from my choir experience. And my recent experience in Vegas prompted me to think again on this topic of teamwork, and more specifically the concept of “team” from what I witnessed both on and off the court.

Volley Poppers in action on the court

Lesson #1 — Communication

Communication: it’s an essential part of any successful team. In a game as dynamic and fast-moving like volleyball, team members need to stay alert, know and anticipate the plays, and call hits and avoid collisions by signaling ‘who’s got it.’ [Please pardon my lack of appropriate volleyball terminology]. We’ve all seen it before — the ball comes right at two players and both stare immobile as the ball flies right between them, because they thought the other might get it. More oftentimes, what I saw were exciting rallies with the ball in play, and players calling out when they ‘had it,’ setting up successfully for effective hits.

The communication between plays are equally important. The quick cheers and reassurances between plays keep the energy and team spirit up. Feedback to your teammates is also important, whether it’s in between plays or during team timeouts to regroup on strategy. If a team member allows their ego to get in the way, they won’t be open and able to receive feedback on certain aspects of their play or how the game is going. Team players have to be humble enough to listen and attend to their teammates’ feedback if they wish to be successful as a group.

Lesson #2 — Practice makes perfect

Some teams I saw in those games were like well-oiled machines. You could tell they were not winging it. They’d made these plays before — it was like they’d practiced this, and it showed! There is a saying from the track and field sphere: “Train hard; run easy.” If you have had the chance to intentionally practice and regularly play together as a team ahead of a tournament, you’ll apply that experience on game day. And with the extra adrenaline from the tournament setting, whatever your practiced (or didn’t) leading up to this will be amplified.

Lesson #3 — Trust

Practice and working as a team is also important to help establish trust, another important element to a successful team. Building trust comes from shared experience and understanding of your teammates. Trust also comes from building strong relationships and respect, such that you can share important feedback (and encouragement!) that helps the collective be more successful.

Lesson #4 — Team on and off the court

“All work and no play makes Homer something something.” Although we say we play sports, team sports are a lot of hard work. You can tell but the sweaty jerseys, the sore wrists and knees (and maybe a rolled ankle). And surely the players were feeling more than my sore throat from yelling and sore hands from clapping from the sidelines.

The great thing about this volleyball tournament being part of the Sin City Classic was that there were many opportunities to have fun, whether it was lunches/dinners/drinks after the morning tournament and having fun at the evening socials as a group. Most of the team was also lucky to get rooms in the same hotel floor, so we got to hang out and get ready together.

“Happy team, good plays.” Where it all only about the games (i.e. the serious work), the weekend would not have been as much fun. And since I wasn’t playing on the court, I got to enjoy the fun outside of the games even more. If a team isn’t doing well and having fun connecting with each other outside of their games, it brings different dynamics to the court.

Lesson #5 — The wins are more than just wins

Not everyone can win. And sometimes circumstances outside of your control might impact the end-result such that it doesn’t end up being what you’d hoped. But how much of a downer would participating in sports (especially at a queer sports tournament) be if it was only about who wins the games? There’s so much more to the experience: the team bonding, the memories, personal accomplishments/achievements/improvements. And regardless of the outcome from a game or the overall tournament, you’ll probably most remember your team.

Being a tourist on the Las Vegas Strip



Dan Cantiller

Student Affairs professional working in Canadian higher education. Recent Master of Education graduate. Queer. Baritone. Toronto is home. (he/him)