If you attend the judo club in Madison enough you’ll eventually hear Anders’ spiel about how judo is more a team sport than the sports that people think of as team sports (i.e. soccer, baseball, basketball, etc.). He tends to make a pretty good case too.
It’s hard for me to put into exact words, but it comes down to coaching, teaching, and training philosophy. In a sport like judo you’re only as good as your training partners allow you to be. There’s a lot to being a good training partner, a good instructor, a good coach. You should strive to be all three. Even if you don’t have aspirations of coaching or teaching, all three are connected. A good training partner is someone who by practicing with and rolling against you improve your skill level. A good instructor is someone who can demonstrate or explain techniques to you in a way that just clicks. A good coach knows the rules and your game so well that they have the exact piece of advice you need in a competition situation. A great instructor who over-corrects you during drills is a lousy training partner. A great instructor who doesn’t know the rules of the competition is a terrible coach. If you’re a good training partner you’ll be able to feel what they’re doing wrong so you can make more directed advice as an instructor. If you’re a good instructor you’ll be able to give the explanation or demonstration to correct what they’re doing wrong and help them grow as a partner. If you’re a good coach you know their game and you can give advice in both situations about attack chains or the elements they should work on for the next competition.
We are a team sport unlike any other because what we put in to our partners is what we will get out of ourselves. If I half-ass my practice I don’t just hurt myself – I hurt everyone I work with that day. If I perform sloppy sweeps and let myself be choked out by shoddy submissions I hurt the individual who needs me to push them to grow. When you’re on the mat you’re on your own save a coach, but before you even set foot to mat you’re the culmination of your whole team. You have Junior’s seoi otoshi because he showed it to you. You have Tanner’s triangle choke – and you have the defense his triangles forced you to learn. You aren’t just one person fighting one person, you’re a whole gym fighting a whole gym.
Any time you think grappling is about the individual remember that it takes a whole team to raise a fighter. Any time you feel pride for a great victory remember that it is a victory for everyone who trained you.