One of the biggest challenges for a coach is taking a previously unsuccessful team and leading the team to becoming a future winner. Of course, having talent is a big part of coaching success, but talent alone does not lead to success (and, conversely, having limited talent doesn’t necessarily equate to mediocrity). In fact, we regularly see “good teams on paper” fail to live up to expectations, while also witnessing otherwise average to below-average teams in the pre-season go on to have quite successful seasons. One big reason for both of these outcomes occurring is quality of coaching, and more specifically, the efforts made to develop team culture and cohesion.
Sport psychologists refer to team culture as the overall ways in which athletes think and behave amongst one another. Teams with positive culture often enjoy being around and playing with one another, accept team challenges with a sense of togetherness, and pick each other up immediately following losses and other team stressors. Good coaches know that it is just as important to work on the “human side” of team building and not just the X’s and O’s on the field. In that spirit, these coaches will examine various team building strategies designed to foster trust and respect amongst players — some of the ideas I have personally watched coaches use successfully include:
- Team dinners
- Ropes/climbing courses (or other approaches designed to build trust amongst players)
- Video game or movie nights
Additionally, good coaches will take the time to listen to their players by having team meetings where all player comments and suggestions are unconditionally welcomed, with many of the ideas being acted upon. When players feel their voices are being heard, and they feel the relationships they have with coaches and fellow players are genuine, only then will they fully contribute toward the overall positive and harmonious development of team culture.
Group (or team) cohesion is another interesting quality sport psychologists study, and while you might initially think having a team where everyone always gets along is the most desired goal, this is not the case. In fact, in teams where the cohesion is always positive and lacking in confrontation, team members often take a step back when they feel they should speak up (like when the team needs to be confronted about poor effort) and instead remain quiet to keep team harmony and politeness. In these instances the opportunity for improvement is lost in trade to simply keeping everybody happy.
The best team cohesion actually includes opportunities for team members to speak up when they need to, and talk openly about negative issues impacting the team. Of course, players do not need to be rude or insensitive in speaking out about negative issues, but they do need to feel confident that they can bring up what needs to be said. Confrontation can be done successfully if player trust and respect one another, and if they have “bought in” to the team goals at the beginning of the season established through healthy team culture building.
Building a winning team takes a lot of things, including good players and a healthy team culture. Good coaches invest in developing relationships with their players, and allow for differing opinions and team input when the time is right. When it all comes together players have more fun and coaches become legends for their abilities to lead their programs to becoming successful, winning programs.