The Los Angeles Lakers, picked in the pre-season to challenge for an NBA title, are currently on the outside looking in just to earn a playoff spot (much less compete for a championship). Currently 17-22, this team loaded with Hall of Fame players including Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash, are not only under-performing, but could end up being one of the biggest busts in the history of sports.
Of course, there are countless reasons why the Lakers haven’t played up to their potential, but when it is distilled down to the basics team chemistry – or lack thereof – is without a doubt a major factor contributing to the team’s underachieving. In sports, team chemistry is a fascinating concept to study for sport psychologists, as there is no one “cook-book way” to successfully integrate delicate personalities within a team. In LA, there has already been finger pointing between Bryant and Howard, illustrating that the team is far from being a well-oiled machine.
In fact, when thinking about team chemistry one way to look at it is how you might go about making a pot of chilli and the number of hot peppers to add. Too few peppers and the chilli is bland, too many and it ruins an otherwise tasty chilli. Team chemistry in sports in similar in the sense of vocal leader personalities, compliant and motivated followers, and coaches who are willing and interested in balancing the various personalities. When you get it right it usually leads to championships, but when you miss, well, check out the Lakers to see what I mean.
When players know and accept their roles team chemistry improves accordingly — in fact, in these situations players usually increase their mental toughness and actually perform over what they are supposed to “on paper.” Similarly, when players don’t buy into the team concept, otherwise talented players lose their focus and mental toughness and play below their abilities as a result. In Los Angeles, the team chemistry certainly looks “off” as both Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard have been vocally critical of the team lately, prompting fans to wonder just how long this team will stay together?
Team chemistry in sports is not just something pro coaches deal with, as it is a similar challenge for countless youth and interscholastic coaches, too. If you are a coach and have wondered about why your team is performing below what you thought, you might want to dedicate time toward ideas for increasing team chemistry so that your team can over-achieve rather than play below what it is capable of playing.
Become a great coach by learning about team chemistry — our Coach Toolkit will help you get started!