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Team Cohesion… Do You Have What It Takes?

Lets start out with a simple definition. In the perspective of sports psychology, team cohesion is defined as: A dynamic process reflected in the tendency for a group to stick together and remain united in the pursuit of its goals and objectives. However, underneath this definition there are two separate aspects of team cohesion, social cohesion and task cohesion.  Social cohesion is the interpersonal attractions among group members, or in other words, how well your players get along in a social setting. Task cohesion is the degree to which group members work together to achieve common goals and objectives. Both are of the up-most importance in having a successful season. In fact, in a survey of 65 U.S. coaches who participated in the 1996 Atlanta and 1994 Nagano Olympic games, team cohesion was identified by the coaches as one of the three top factors influencing success at the Olympics. (Coaching the Inner Edge, Vealey, 2005)  It’s logical for cohesion to be such a strong factor to success in team sports, we are forced to work together to win, it’s impossible to win a team sporting event by yourself.

Success and cohesion

  • Performance and cohesion are circular; they will both result from each other. Team cohesion promotes success on a team, and success promotes team cohesion.
  • More for female teams than male teams

A great example of task cohesion is the “V-formation” geese fly in. They fly in this formation because when the front goose flaps its wings he creates an updraft for the goose directly behind him, allowing them to use a lot less energy to fly. When the lead goose gets tired he falls to the back and another geese takes the lead position. It is said that geese can fly 71% farther this way then they could alone. People who share a common objective or goal, can attain that goal more successfully and easily if they collaborate with one another. It is even noted, that if a goose is wounded and falls out of formation, two other geese will follow him, and stay with him until he can re-join the formation again, or until he dies.

What coaches must realize is that team cohesion is something that ebbs and flows, once you have it doesn’t mean you are automatically going to keep it. It is something that must constantly be worked on, just like the fundamental skills that are worked on everyday in practice. Teams go through stages as they become more cohesive; forming, storming, norming, and performing. These stages aren’t linear, a team may reach norming, and then fall back into the storming stage.

Forming: People are starting to get to know each other, sizing each other up, familiarizing themselves with each other. Interpersonal relationships are formed, team structure is developed, people are constantly comparing themselves to others. It’s basically the “getting to know each other” stage. A great example of this is on the TV show “The Real World”. In the first couple of days there are a lot of questions asked, deciding on whom to room with. Then on about the 3rd night drama, or conflict, happens; they enter the storming stage.

Storming: the storming stage is characterized by rebellion, resistance to control, interpersonal conflict, looking out for self playing time, why am I not starting uncertainties arise, and cliques start to form.

Norming: Hostility is replaced with development towards solidarity, cooperation, and a general consensus of working together towards goals.

Performing: This stage is the ultimate goal in team success. There is no  self-channeled energies, players aren’t thinking about themselves anymore. It’s all about their teammates and how they can succeed as a group. In this stage peak performance is possible. The team is able to solve problems without personal feelings being threatened. There is no bitterness about playing time, players understand their roles, and understand what is best for the team. It is said that most teams don’t get here, this stage is usually reserved for Olympic gold medalist teams, or world series champs.

Sometimes as a coach its hard to tell where your team might be within these stages. When I was coaching at the junior college, I actually gave my players this information and asked them where they thought we were. Everything was confidential, and it was very beneficial for me, as a coach, to hear individual perspectives and combine them together to distinguish the big picture.

In order to create team cohesion, the entire team must be deeply committed to engaging in self-reflection, honest and open dialogue, and the behavioral changes necessary to sustain an optimal team climate. Show your players that if they are a T.E.A.M. they will achieve more;Together Everyone Achieves More. Although we’ve all used and heard the quote  “there is no I in team”, there actually is, and we like to refer to that “I” as T.R.Y. Take Responsibility for Yourself. Each athlete must be doing his or her part to nurture a cohesive team culture. Every athlete on a team must T.R.Y. for T.E.A.M. to happen. Remind your players that they aren’t just friends, they’re teammates. Being a teammate gives each athlete a special status, and it gives each of their teammates the responsibility of supporting and respecting each other. There are times when your players will have conflicts,and that’s not always a bad thing. Teach them to view conflict as a wave, it can have the potential to knock them down, or sweep them forward. An argument that is resolved results in greater team growth, unlike an unresolved issue that is swept under the carpet and left to boil and add frustration.

As a coach, you need to help your athletes create an atmosphere where they can push each other to their limits. An atmosphere where they can challenge each other to work harder without anyone feeling threatened. Encourage your players to verbally appreciate their teammates efforts when hard work is being demonstrated. By hard work I don’t necessarily mean success, players who are working hard and struggling, should be verbally recognized by their teammates too. There will be times when some of your athletes start to slack off, create an environment where their teammates can respectfully motivate them to work harder. Inspire your players to pick each other up when they fail, and congratulate each other when they find success.  Your team will get so much more out of each other than we as coaches ever could.

So what does this atmosphere look like on a day to day basis at practice? Players are competitive at practice every day; they try to out due each other. They are disciplined and work their hardest with out slacking, even when the coaches aren’t watching. Everyday they are personally committing to creating an environment where team chemistry can thrive. There is constant chatter between athletes, encouraging, congratulating, and motivating each other throughout practice. Players are giving their all, even during the  basic mundane drills to ensure their game is fundamentally strong. They are focused and cognitively aware at practice to guarantee that they are mentally strong.

Quote of the day:

“I’ll do whatever it takes to win games, whether it’s sitting on a bench waving a towel, handing a cup of water to a teammate, or hitting the game winning shot”

About smarcia12

I am a Sports Psychology graduate student who is more than passionate about the world of sport psychology. I not only strive to better the sports world, but all aspects of life! Sport psychology is so applicable to everyday life, it's amazing!

2 responses »

  1. Pingback: "Me before Team" A downward spiral. - Page 2

  2. Pingback: The Potential Consequences of Team Cohesion | One Game, One Love.

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