What Is the Difference Between Individual and Dual Sports?

By Staff WriterLast Updated May 27, 2020 7:33:15 PM ET
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Sports can be enjoyable as well as a great way to get or stay in shape. Some sports are individual sports, where one athlete competes on his or her own merits. Other sports are dual sports, which require two athletes to compete as a team to win together. Both of these are distinct from team sports, where larger numbers of athletes work together. The main difference between individual and dual sports is the number of athletes who compete on the same side.

Individual Sports

Individual sports are those sports where only one athlete competes for his or her own side. Many track and field, cross country, and swimming events are individual competitions, where one athlete is solely responsible for winning or losing. Golf is another sport where each athlete is on his or her own.

Skiing, snowboarding, and many other events you see in Olympic and other international competitions are individual sports as well. Gymnastics is a sport where athletes compete on a team but perform individually. Even basketball can be a one-on-one activity.

Dual Sports

There are only a handful of sports that are strictly dual sports and don’t have an option for individual competition. At the Olympic level, beach volleyball involves two players per team. In professional wrestling—which some would argue isn’t a sport—tag team matches involve two-person teams where one competitor tags in or out of the match. You can play two-on-two basketball as well.

Sports That Can Be Individual or Dual

There are certain sports that can be either individual or dual sports. The most common example is tennis, where athletes can compete in singles or doubles play, and many competitors take part in both at major tournaments. You can also play other racquet sports like badminton and racquetball in either format.

Table tennis, or ping-pong, gives players options for playing as individuals or as duos. Billiards offers two-on-two options as well.

Pros and Cons of Individual Sports

Individual sports can be fun because you’re solely responsible for the outcome. The performance rests on your shoulders, and you receive all of the credit for your victory. Individual sports require a competitive spirit and a self-starting nature. You’re on your own as an individual athlete, so you have to compete without anyone beside you to take up the slack.

On the opposite side of the argument, if you lose, all of the blame falls on you as an individual athlete. You also don’t have a teammate to lean on if you’re struggling or having a bad performance. It’s easier to get discouraged when you’re the only athlete competing.

Pros and Cons of Dual Sports

Competing in dual sports can be fun because of the camaraderie and teamwork involved in working together as a team. Dual teammates can encourage each other and play off each other to win. One teammate can also bear the load when the other one is struggling or having difficulty. Dual sports require cooperation, so if you get along well with your fellow athletes, you’ll do well in a dual sport.

There are disadvantages to dual sports as well. You have less control over the outcome when you’re relying on another teammate. You can have your best individual performance and still lose the match or game in a dual sport, which is an important factor to remember. You can also find the burden of a game or match falling on you if your teammate is performing poorly or has a bad attitude.

Team Sports

The category of team sports is even more broad. The most popular sports at the college level—sports like football, baseball, and basketball—are team sports. Teams play volleyball, hockey, and lacrosse as well. Relays in swimming or track and field are team efforts. The dynamic of team sports is even more different than individual or dual sports, because of the cooperation and specialization of roles on teams.

Sometimes an individual or dual sport can cross over to being a team sport. In large international competitions like the Olympics or the Davis Cup in tennis or Ryder Cup in golf, you can compete as an individual or part of a duo, but you’re also competing for your country’s team as a whole. In gymnastics, athletes compete in individual events, but the team as a whole receives a score.