Coaches at all levels of sports regularly seek out the best coaching methods to develop and improve upon team chemistry and cohesion. In some rare cases teams come together naturally and with little coach effort, as individual personalities just “click” by pure chance. In most instances, however, teams that develop as strong, trusting units are proactively created by coaches who invest as much on the people side of coaching as they do the X’s and O’s.
Foundation elements of strong teams
Youth and interscholastic coaches are no different when it comes to team building than college and pro coaches, at least not fundamentally speaking. Sure, teaching the game at the higher levels requires more expertise of the game, but when it comes to the basics of solid team building you might be surprised to learn that much of it is the same, regardless of level coaching. For example, a 10 year old is just as likely to give it his all for a caring coach who has his back as a 20 year old college student-athlete. The key is learning as much as you can about human thinking and behavior, and then using what you know with the kids you coach on a daily basis.
Key ideas for coaches
While there is no one-size-fits-all recipe for team-building, there are a number of considerations coaches should prioritize when working to improve the overall climate and culture of a team. The ideal situation for all coaches is to develop an environment where kids know their role, take ownership of the team, pull for one another, and give it their maximum effort every time out. Strong, healthy team environments are more likely to witness better interpersonal relations among coaches and teammates, stronger motivation, and greater resiliency — qualities consistently witnessed on wining teams.
Consider the ideas below and how you might use them as you develop and enhance your coaching philosophy:
- Leadership with a vision. As a coach the first question to ask yourself is what do you want from the team? Is winning a primary goal, or do you value teaching kids life skills as your #1 priority? The more clear you are with your goals for the team, the easier it is to “sell” those ideas to the kids you coach, and the greater likelihood team cohesion will strengthen as a result.
- Open and clear communication. Communication includes both verbal (what you say) as well as non-verbal (the actions and behaviors you display). Are you clear with your team about team goals, rules, and consequences? Do you encourage your players to ask questions and provide insights about how the team can improve? While the buck stops with the coach, employing elements of a democratic leadership style empowers team members, and allows them to take ownership and feel they have a real part in the success of the team.
- Positive reinforcement and encouragement. Your attitude might be the most important thing you can bring to a team — even more than the words you say. Showing up early and prepared is the first step for kids to model, and your enthusiasm and positive emotions will encourage the team to display the same characteristics. Catch kids doing things the right way, offer hearty public praise, and regularly provide ways for kids to continue to excel and before you know it you will have a team that buys in to your system.
- Holistic relations with players. One of the biggest complaints I hear from athletes is that the coach never took the time to know them as people, not just athletes. This is especially true in youth and interscholastic sports, where athletes are more inclined to work their hardest for a coach who values them beyond the identity of “athlete.” Do you take the time to know your players off the field? You might be surprised at how much stronger relationships become by simply taking interest in the things kids value beyond playing sports.
One of my favorite quotes when it comes to coaching is “Your players don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” Developing a winning team on and off the field requires coaches to commit to the big picture, beginning with having a long-term vision, and then establishing strong relations with players to increase team chemistry and cohesion. Take time out to get to know the kids you coach, and make it a point to know them as people, not just athletes. As with most things in life, your genuine efforts and commitment will be key as it applies to the level of success you will experience.