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Category Archives: Team Cohesion

Autonomy Breeds Pride

It’s early. The morning dew is still beaded up upon each blade of grass that covers the outfield. If you look off into the distance, you can see the fog still hovering low over the surrounding fields.SANYO DIGITAL CAMERA A familiar buzz catches your attention and shifts your gaze to the right field line of the field directly in front of you. It’s the low chatter of a well oiled team preparing for their upcoming competition. They are like a machine, rotating in and out of drills in perfect synchronization. You can almost see the aura of energy radiating around them.

This is one of my favorite scenes from the travel ball world; seeing a team that takes pride in themselves and is anxious to take the field. A team that doesn’t need a coach to get them started in the morning. A team that is accountable and takes responsibility for the necessary actions needed to prepare for competition.

How do you get your team to create that desired morning buzz? Here’s my best suggestion; let them develop their own warm-up routine and pre-game cheer. If you let them be a part of the creative process, they will feel a sense of ownership towards their pre-competition routine. It won’t be something they were merely ordered to do. It will be something they created. Their own masterpiece. Letting athletes make their own decisions gives them the opportunity to be proud of the things they’ve chosen.

Giving them the reins on creating their warm-up will also allow a few other things to emerge. This is a great opportunity to observe who steps up as a leader. softball-warm-upIt’s hard to get 11-20 people to agree on one thing, this will show you which person is comfortable taking charge and facilitating the compromises that will need to occur. It will also allow you to see unique skills your athletes possess; who’s creative, who’s a good listener, who thinks outside the box, who communicates well, who follows, and who’s organized.

Another thing to keep in mind; their warm-up doesn’t have to be uber serious the whole time. When I was playing collegiate ball, Sonoma State University used to begin their warm-ups with a silly human obstacle course relay race. I remember how loud they would get as soon as warm-ups started. We were on the opposite sideline running through our mundane dynamic stretches and they were cheering eachother on, laughing, smiling, and really getting pumped, yet staying loose for game time. I was always secretly jealous that my team didn’t take part in anything like that.

Let your athletes take charge, of course with knowing that you get the final approval on any routine that is developed. Give them a sense of pride and ownership by increasing their autonomy. You never know, they might come up with something that surprises you!

Quote of the day:

“The difference between a good athlete and a top athlete is the top athlete will do the mundane things when nobody’s looking.” – Susan True

The Potential Consequences of Team Cohesion

I’ve always preached the importance of team cohesion to my players as well as to fellow coaches. As a former player, I’ve witnessed how beneficial it can be, not only to the performance of a team, but for the overall experience as a player. Recently, I had the opportunity to talk with Coach Margie Wright who coached softball at Fresno State University, a Division I program. She brought up a side of team cohesion that is more commonly experienced in the coaching world. margie wrightThe possible negative consequences that can arise within teams who possess high team cohesion, an important aspect that I hadn’t acknowledged in my blogs. Team Cohesion Blog

“Prepare for the possibility of the team being united and they all turn against the coach in a strong solidarity against a decision the coach made against one of their teammates.”

In my opinion, this outcome is a perfect example of total success. This is an example of a coach that full heartedly united her players. Enough so, that the players united in the frightening task of disagreeing with their head coach, someone they trust, respect, and obey, in order to protect their teammate. I’m not aware of the specific circumstances that accompanied this situation, however, I would be proud to lead a team who came together and made a united decision to protect a teammate in the face of conflict. Whether their decision was right or wrong for the organization is an entirely different issue, one that deals with commitment and focus, not cohesion. Coach wright agreed with my response and divulged that after further explanation to her athletes they all agreed with the decision that was made. It’s so important to have open communication with your athletes, behaviors don’t always portray the actual intentions. An open dialogue can enhance the player-coach relationship by building trust and understanding. As mentioned before in my Enlighten Athletes with “Why” blog, it’s essential to give athletes the reasoning behind things.

Coach Wright also mentioned an extremely common problem that arises in the process of becoming a cohesive team. “An individual or small group of the team either being left out (unnoticed by the coach) or resistive to the team coming together.”

My suggestion to battling this issue starts with a teams’ culture. It must be apparent to the players that the team norms, and coaches philosophy, believe that every player is imperative for the teams successes. Every player must feel they play an important role to the team, even if they don’t get much playing time.Softball_WEBBorunda-360x240 The atmosphere of the team must preach that no one gets left out and that selfish attitudes are simply unacceptable. With these standards and model behaviors in place problem athletes or cliques, will quit or be washed into the “right” way of doing things. Some players may not fully buy into the “one for all” attitude, but they will comply, at least on the outside. If they truly don’t like it, they’ll leave. Again, Coach Wright and I were on the same page in alleviating this issue. Set standards for what is acceptable and what isn’t, there will always be problem players; allow the teams’ culture to convert them or let them go.

Coach Wright spoke of another issue that tends to be extremely common among teams. “Team cohesiveness not producing a team win. The players may decide they don’t need to work so hard to be united because it didn’t appear to work since the outcome was negative.”

Two of my Chico State teammates doing their bat dance ritual before a game

My best answer to this issue would be knowledge and understanding. Most players don’t get the luxury of a sport psychology class that allows them to truly understand the benefits and fluctuations of team dynamics. Team cohesion isn’t a quick fix or a guaranteed road to success. It is one factor that influences performance not a sole predictor. Also, incorporating team bonding activities that are fun or help players learn about one another can help to keep the team cohesion issue enticing to players. In my experience through sport, playing as a team and including everyone was always preached, but the reasoning behind it wasn’t always clear. I think teaching athletes about studies done around cohesion as well as relating it to future life skills is a great way to deter athletes from giving up.

The most difficult issue Coach Wright brought to my attention was: “The cohesiveness becomes more social than work oriented and the social times the team gets together become destructive. (Team drinking or breaking training rules…)”

My teammates/roommates and I in our freshman year of college

Although social and task cohesion are indicative to success in sport, one without the other can create issues. The above mentioned issue of breaking team training rules and behavior codes are issues that need intervention and appropriate punishment. I’m torn on how I would handle these issues. On one hand I think it’s more of an issue that is related to team climate and commitment to goals. On the other hand it is directly related to team cohesion, can athletes hold each other accountable? I think I would commend the team on being together as a team but explain that their actions as a whole are counterproductive to their goals as student-athletes. My emphasis in coaching is teaching players, and incorporating life lessons. Throughout my career many of the “whys” behind strategies and skills were left out. I also didn’t get the chance to really connect with some of my coaches over sharing a passion for the same game. As a coach I want my players to know why coming together as team is important, and to know that playing collegiate ball is a once in a lifetime opportunity. I would speak of personal experiences in hopes to inspire them to change their ways.

Talking through these issues with such a well known and successful collegiate coach was really insightful. When your out there on the field as a coach one of your biggest responsibilities is problem solving; sometimes this is easy to forget as I sit here and write. I focus a lot on prevention, when it reality, most coaches are looking for resolving tactics midseason. It was also a huge compliment to hear that someone of her status agreed with my view points on how to handle these common issues. I throughly enjoyed hearing her perspective on the matter, it brought me “back to reality” so to speak. Hope you all enjoyed it as much as I did!

Quote of the Day:

“Let your hair down but not your team” – anonymous 

The Importance of Teammates

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We’ve all been there before, that early, cold, 8:00am game. You’re tired, you’re groggy, you’re shivering, and your cleats are soaked with morning dew. I understand how hard it is to be there, but this is the moment when your teammates play a big role.Penn State softball homerun huddle You get to come out here and hang out with your best friends first thing in the morning. That’s the aspect that makes those 8am games fun. In life, when the going gets tough and you hit a wall, it’s your family and closest friends that get you by, right? Those are the people you turn to. It has to be the same way out here, on this team. This is a part of your family. When things get rough out here, you turn to your neighbor, you work hard for her. Your bond with her is so strong, that you strive team cohesion chicoto make her look good at every opportunity. You sacrifice yourself to promote her success. That’s when we will excel as a team, and you will excel as individual players. When we commit to being  “all for one and one for all”. When nobody cares who gets the credit. That’s when those special, unforgettable, incredible moments happens. That’s where championship teams and players are made; that’s the foundation. Team cohesion is an essential ingredient to success.

Team cohesion applies in life as well. If we all cared a little more about the people around us the world would be a better place. If we helped each other out without needing recognition for good deeds we do. We could truly excel as a society and grow as social beings. Selflessness is an invaluable trait. So start here, on the softball field, for your teammates.

Quote of the day:

“A candle loses nothing by lighting another a candle. That’s what you guys are here to do, light each other up.”

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”

Mountain of Student-Athlete Success

I came up with this model to illustrate the priorities a student-athlete should uphold. As a college athlete your resposibilities to uptain your student life, athletic life, and social life, should fall into a pyramid like this one shown below.

Every aspect is crucial to the optimal college experience as a student-athlete. However, these aspects should be organized like a mountain, not a volcano. If it were to rain on this mountain, the top tiers would drip down to the bottom tiers. So sometimes in college, being a student drips down and interferes with your athletic responsibilities, and being a student and an athlete can drip down and interfere with your social life. These drops create water ways through the other aspects of your life, and force you to make sacrifices. For instance, you may have to give up going out on friday night due to having softball practice early on a saturday morning. Sometimes you’ll have to study into the late hours of the night, and show up for morning work-outs a little groggy the next morning. However, this mountain is not a volcano; your social life can’t be spewing destructive lava up through your athletic, and academic career. These flaming rocks of lava can permanently burn your student-athlete career, even taking it away from you. The same can be said about your athletic career ruining your academic career, and in turn, ending your athletic career altogether. You can’t go out on a thursday night, and show up to practice completely exhausted the next day, and then in turn go to bed early without doing your homework that night.

The basis is, you, as a college athlete, are a STUDENT-athlete. You have to be a student first. You are a student before you are an athlete, and in order to stay a student-athlete you must put your academic and athletic career before your social life. It is so important for coaches, and athletes alike, to realize that without academic success, athletes wouldn’t even be allowed to play collegiate sports. Students who didn’t succeed in the classroom in high school, can’t get into colleges to further their athletic careers.You must put your academic career first. It’s the only thing that is keeping you on the field.

Quote of the day:

“There’s a reason we are called Sudent-atheletes. It is a privilege. Uphold your commitment.” 

Team Bonding; an aspect commonly overlooked by coaches

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It’s amazing to me how many coaches overlook the importance of team bonding. Im not necessarily talking about team sleepovers, or team dinners. I mean coach facilitated team bonding. Activities and discussions to unite players on a deeper level than a common interest in a certain sport. On both of my collegiate teams, I was merely thrown into the mix of players and left to fend for myself in getting to know my teammates. Yet, in my collegiate classes there was always a teacher facilitated “get to know each other” activity done in the first week of school. This perplexed me. In the classroom I rarely rely on my fellow classmates to assist me in receiving a good grade. However, on the softball field, achieving success without relying on my teammates is impossible. So why were my teachers putting more emphasis on cohesion than my coaches were?

In my undergraduate studies, most of my teachers possessed a doctorate that fell into the field of kinesiology. Since my teachers were highly trained in the kinesiology field, they knew that cohesion within a group breeds success for the group. They knew that if we were comfortable with our classmates we would be more likely to speak up in class, ask for help, collaborate, and discuss, which in turn benefits the learning process by getting us involved. If team bonding activities were so beneficial in improving communication in the classroom, think of how successful it could make a sports team.

Which lead me to my future philosophy as  coach. I will always start off a season with team bonding activities. Not only will I begin the season with team bonding activities, but I will implement them through out the year as well. No one knows better than a former athlete that team dynamics ebb and flow throughout the season. Situations happen, teammates get in fights, suzy steals sallys boyfriend and so on. So extending team bonding activities throughout the season is a very important aspect to me.

I’ve actually found and witnessed a few programs that start their seasons this way. (Sierra City College) In fact, when I coached for Santa Rosa Junior college in their 2012 season, we started our spring season this way. We took our girls up to Tahoe for a retreat. On the retreat we played games, and facilitated discussions so our players could truly get to know each other, we as coaches could get to know them, and they us. I’ve never been so moved. I went from barely knowing my players to really understanding who they were as players and where they come from. Their personalities and behaviors were finally linked to reason, rather than mere physical observations. One of the more popular activities we did, was a scavenger hunt. When I was a freshman at SRJC in 2008 our coaches put together a scavenger hunt for us as an end of the year “party”. We were sent out in groups of 3-4 all over Santa Rosa with a list of tasks to complete and a video camera. We had two hours to record as many tasks as we could. At the end of two hours we reconvened at our coaches house and viewed all the tapes to determine a winner. The footage was priceless. We were all hysterically laughing at eachothers’ success and failures. Some of the tasks included: leap frogging across a cross walk, belly flopping into a pool, eating an entire lemon, rubbing a bald persons head, eating a raw egg and so on. Inspired by my freshman experience I recreated it for my players. Again it was a complete success, they loved it, and really got to know each other as they worked through the tasks.

It is so important for players to connect with one another. It facilitates communication and trust on the field and off. Not only is it beneficial, it’s fun! Can’t wait to implement my own team bonding plan someday!

Quote of the day:

“The main ingredient to a players stardom is the rest of the team” – John Wooden 

Sh*t talking is effortless

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Excuse my french, but, It doesn’t take effort to “shit talk” about people like your teammates, it’s effortless.Image

When on a sports team you spend countless hours practicing with your teammates every day and can easily pick apart their personalities and tendencies finding things that are imperfect or outright annoying. Blabbing these bothersome habits to other teammates hoping to persuade them to notice the negative side of a player only fuels the irritation and does nothing constructive for yourself or the team. What does take strength is to ignore the imperfect habits of your teammates and find the piece of a person that does benefit your team; the part that makes them standout positively. Challenge yourself to embrace their strength and realize that they are a necessity to your team. Persuade your teammates to notice the positive qualities each player contributes to the team. Refusing to participate in conversations that are negative about specific players or situations makes you a better teammate and a better person. We’ve all had our moments of frustration or anger when we talk negatively about another player, but it’s never too late to make a change; don’t follow the pack, be a leader, benefit your team, don’t take the easy way out. Strive to be the best person for your team, rather than the best person on your team. Take the challenge, refuse to shit talk.

I wrote this while playing collegiate softball. I walked onto a new team with a bad habit of talking behind others backs. It was frustrating, and very unwelcoming. So I took my own challenge, to never talk badly about a teammate. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. It kept me out of the drama, and focused on the field. I even had a teammate of mine tell me how inspired she was by my decision. She decided to take the challenge in her own life. I never thought I would have had such an impact on others. It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it.

Quote of the day:

“Ask not what your teammates can do for you, ask what you can do for your teammates.” – Magic Johnson

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