Developing Teamwork

According to The Roget’s 21st Century Thesaurus, Third Edition Copyright © 2013 by the Philip Lief Group, some of the synonyms of teamwork are: collaboration, cooperation, harmony, partnership, synergy, unity, alliance, assistance, coalition, confederacy, confederation, federation, help, partisanship, symbiosis, synergism, union, combined effort, doing business with, esprit de corps, and joint effort.  Early in my coaching career I believed the only way to achieve good teamwork is primarily through tactics.  While good passing and support play are critically important to teamwork, they are not the only ways to develop good teamwork.

Eventually I learned that generating the synonyms associated with teamwork listed above begins in the pre-season, and well before a ball is introduced into a practice. How can you generate teamwork without talking about or incorporating tactics or a soccer ball?  The process begins with the first team meeting. One of the best locations for the first team meeting is in the home of one the players or perhaps a private room at a pizza restaurant  Good food is essential to not only this meeting, but also important to subsequent meetings and pre and post matches. During the season we would either gather at the home of a player before the match or have breakfast or lunch together as a team at a local restaurant depending on the starting time of the match.   While coaching in Michigan, I lived in a condo complex that had a large pavilion used for hosting various events throughout the year. The pavilion had a number of amenities, including pool and ping pong tables, game tables, TV, comfortable sofas and chars, indoor hot tub and pool as well as a full kitchen. I would select a group of players to prepare breakfast or lunch, and the remaining players would enjoy the recreational activities until the meal was ready. Frequent team gatherings are just one of the activities that helps to create team chemistry and develop a family atmosphere. Celebrating birthdays, several informal gatherings of all the families at the home of a parent during the season, traveling together to away games, and other social events during the season also promote teamwork.

Another major element in developing teamwork and the elements associated with the term teamwork involves the pre-season conditioning program. My pre-season conditioning program typically utilized a large local park, to develop not only the overall strength and endurance of each athlete, but incorporated teamwork development. Running sprints day after day is boring. Several times per week, during the pre-season, we oftentimes spent most of the day at the park incorporting a wide range of activities. Players rode their bikes up to 16 miles, ran and played modified games similar to “British Bulldog” on the beach,  engaged in cross-county running through the forest and hills, participated in running in various depths of water as well as swimming out to the deep water buoys and back, utilized picnic tables for plyometrics, also known as “jump training” or “plyos”, and endured epic obstacles courses on steep gravel hills and toboggan runs. Each activity was specifically designed to test  teamwork and toughness. The conditioning program was not just a series of races or obstacles, but a teamwork challenge. Players were divided into groups of various sizes from two to six. With the help of your fellow teammates, they had to overcome obstacles and adrenaline-pumping challenges.  Woven into the day were several breaks for recreation and meals. Groups were selected to prepare meals.

While this training regime is exhausting, most did it all while having fun. They learned to work hard together, and they did not want to let each other down. This commitment to teamwork and not wanting to let the other players down with less than there best effort continued throughout the season.  Yes, it was logistically challenging to coordinate these events three times a week for the entire day – trailers and vans had to be used to transport bicycles, food, extra clothes, shoes, and other gear. The other training days consisted of the weight room in conjunction with swimming or games like Ultimate Frisbee or a trip to a paintball park in Pinckney, Michigan. Sometimes we would make paintball a father-son activity.

If players are not having some fun at practice or they are getting bored of similar drills practice after practice, their energy levels or effort at practice may began to wane or diminish. While extra running or other form of PT is advisable when mental mistakes occur too frequently, I would not always look to punish the team or individual players with PT or extra running, I would provide another completely different and unrelated activity. This could be in the form of Ultimate Frisbee, volleyball, water polo, flag football, or basketball. I coached multiple sports, and always carried some extra equipment in my vehicle just for these infrequent occasions. The activity would depend upon available equipment or the surrounding environment. If no other activity could be substituted for the practice, and If the overall mood of the players is generally reserved, I would take the team to one of the local pizza restaurants. This activity always elevated the mood of the players and, in my opinion, is better than punishing players for a lackluster effort at practice.

While on tours in Europe with my travel teams, we enjoyed post match meals at the local clubhouse with the hosting team and their families. Back at home, following  home matches with a non-league visiting team, we offered them a free meal prior to their departure. I planned the schedule of our season based on playing the best teams not only in the State, but in surrounding States and in Canada. I used the post match meals as a way to thank the visiting team for traveling to play us, and as a way to promote good will between our teams and families.

Research has demonstrated the coaching trait that provides the greatest motivational value is trust (35%). Love (16%), empowering (15%), and vision (13%) form the second tier of motivational power. Service (7%), altruism (6%) and humility (6%) possess the least motivational value. (Durden, 2016)

An interesting conclusion from this study is that young people are motivated by people who they trust, who demonstrate love toward them, and who see their worth and seek to develop them. It comes as no surprise that trust and love remain timeless virtues in the modern world. It is an affirmation of servant-leadership to discover how research confirms that authentic core values are cross-generational constructs that remain relevant motivators for coaching the modern athlete. Servant leadership coaching in the modern sport culture of America remains a viable and compelling style that is proven as an effective tool to motivate athletes.

I enjoy hearing from players who have continued friendships with former teammates decades after their last match together. I have a better recall of non-match activities that were part of each of the teams I coached, than nearly any individual match. Pictures from  some of the activities surrounding trips to tournaments and Europe are far more valuable to me than dusty trophies. Road trips to matches and various events during tournaments provided great memories for both myself, players and their parents. The European playing tours provided some of the best and longest lasting memories.

Winning Mindset Principles © 2014 Positive Coaching Alliance.

1) You don’t have to finish first to be a winner. We challenge our athletes to carry themselves as Champions regardless of the score or outcome both in practice and in competition. Athletes can exhibit integrity and positive character in all aspects of sport and in life. They don’t depend on winning to maintain confidence, a passion for playing and practicing, joy in being with their teammates and a commitment to becoming a better version of themselves as athletes, as teammates and as people.

2) Control the Controllables. Each sport is comprised of four pillars: the technical components (the skills unique to that sport), the tactical components (team strategy, offense and defensive sets, etc.), the physiological components (strength, endurance, speed, flexibility, anaerobic power to name a few), and the psychological components (mental toughness, imagery, focus, confidence, action plans, etc.). Just like Olympians, athletes at every level should be actively practicing and targeting improvements in each of the four pillars on a daily basis. However, not all aspects of sport are completely under an athlete’s control. Athletes can’t control their opponents, the officials, the weather or the score (and countless other competitive variables), but they can control many factors. Focusing on and targeting the variables under their control can help athletes improve, enjoy the process, maximize their potential and play like champions. So, when we ask athletes to “Control the Controllables,” we emphasize things like attitude, work rate, effort, their response to errors, bench behavior, good sporting behavior, being a good teammate, positive body language and productive actions to name a few.

3) Understand the power of “new math” which we represent with the equation 1+1 = 3. We remind our team that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. We are stronger together. We challenge our athletes to “make a teammate look good”, to “play for something bigger than themselves”, to adopt a “team first” attitude and celebrate and recognize a range of important team behaviors much broader than simply talent on the ice. continues.

4) Play in the now! There are only three points in time; the past, the future and NOW. Only one of those time frames is under your control, and that is “playing in the now.” It’s so easy to get caught up in the future: if we score, or don’t, if I make the team or don’t, if we win a gold medal or don’t and on and on and on. Equally likely is the temptation to dwell on the past: thinking about a mistake you made, the “bad” call from the official or the time the coach corrected you in public. However, only when you focus on the now, the present, this moment, this play, this puck, this defensive stop, only then are you really in control as an athlete.

5) Adopt a beginner’s mindset. We challenge our athletes to expect to learn something new each and every day. When you expect to learn, you do! Have a spirit of openness and cultivate a growth mindset. Be coachable. Take responsibility to share knowledge and experience and insight as often as you ask for help, guidance and correction. Appreciate small improvements in any of the four pillars, and understand that big things come from the smallest changes.


Huge Savings on Disney World Tickets, BUY NOW!