If you coach a sports team and you haven’t taken advantage of delivering a few team building activities as part of a pre-season camp then you are definitely missing a trick.
A common problem and often a struggle for many coaches is how to get players of mixed ability and different backgrounds to perform as a team. Many great coaches have emphasised that having a group of extremely talented athletes does not guarantee a successful team but rather that success is more often the result of a group who choose to work together to achieve a shared team outcome.
If you’re looking for some ideas to get your team working together before the start of the season, to help your players bond, to develop your leaders in unique and different ways or to refresh your players during a tough pre-season, there may be no better way to do so than through a team building experience.
I recommend purchasing my eBook, ‘The Team Building Activity Book’. The book provides an easy to use, step-by-step guide to teaching team building with full descriptions for over 30 team building challenges, including printable challenger briefs, ready to use programmes (including sports teams) and access to exclusive member downloads. Buy it now for $19.99.
Group of Players vs Team of Players
Getting a group of players to perform as a team is not always easy. Just because they train and compete together under the direction of the one coach (or coaching setup) does not automatically define them as a team. Rather, a group becomes a team when they all possess a collective identity, have shared goals and objectives, display effective communication skills, and most importantly consider themselves to be a ‘team’.
Before you begin any team building workshop you must define your objectives and understand the reason you are doing it. Here are the 3 common objectives specifically for sport team based programmes.
Benefits of Team Building for Sports Teams
Objective 1 – Develop Teamwork
The most obvious objective for a team building programme is for the team to develop a solid internal bond that will continue during the season.
When you’ve had an influx of new players, or even a new coaching setup who haven’t had a chance to really gel with their team-mates team based challenges allow them to bond much quicker than could be achieved through standard training and practice drills.
Team Building programmes are intended to promote cooperation to achieve a specific goal. The activities are not about individuals working on their own, instead they have been designed in such a way that the whole team must cooperate and work together in order to achieve the end result (the same as any sports teams).
The ideal number of participants for team challenges is 10-15 participants. When there is more than 15 actively involved, players start to hang back and get lost in the crowd. Sometimes it’s a good idea to have you’re ‘First team’ competing against your ‘Reserve Team’ or you can also mix them to build a better unity.
At the end of each activity, a facilitator will then sit down and chat with the players about their performance.
They may ask questions such as:
What worked well? Who stepped up and lead the challenge? How would you improve in future challenges?
By using these type of questions, the facilitator can lead the direction of conversation and then let the players drive the discussion themselves. The whole purpose of reviewing the process is to show players how their individual actions can impact on the group in either a negative or positive way.
By using team building activities, coaches are also able to see a new side of their players, giving them a better understanding of the group dynamic which helps when planning for the season ahead.
Objective 2 – Finding Leaders
Another common coaching objective is to find leaders your team that could possibly captain your team leading them during the season. By using unique team-based activities, coaches get a different perspective on their team leaders and who takes control when challenged.
Facilitators will often sit back with the coaching staff during the activities to observe who the natural leaders are within the team and the style which in they lead the task. Quite often, coaches are surprised that a certain player will step up and demonstrate leadership qualities or their ability to support the playing group.
The coaching group and facilitator will then give feedback to the leaders throughout the day. Be aware though, that sometimes players who are leading on the field may be leading in a way that is not conducive in getting the best results. Their style is dominating, aggressive and they don’t listen to their teammates – this will generally come out during the activities.
Team based activities should be facilitated in a way that allows constructive discussion on what worked well, what didn’t and why. Following this your facilitator should open up with a discussion about roles within the team.
An excellent review for this is to use the analogy of a bus. Ask group members the following question in relation to their participation during the challenge:
If your team was a bus, what part of this bus would you be and why?
Here’s a few examples of possible answers:
Driver – Directed the team
Engine – Vital element of the team and powered them through the process
Backseat Passenger – Stood back and watched what was happening
Wheels – Worked as part of the team to help them move forwards
Windscreen – So the Team can have better vision and see ahead clearly
After completing a team review like this, you should then ask your players what part they play as part of the team in the season ahead, ensuring they clearly define their role. Whether they are captain, vice-captain, substitute or even attacking winger it is essential that each player understands their importance to the team’s overall performance.
Typically coaches define leadership roles within the team and their importance, but fail to explain the significance of the role that secondary or support players perform – anybody actively involved in the team, must understand their ‘why’ to feel valued.
Objective 3 – Set Team Goals & Individual Development Plans
After any training workshop, coaches should relate and transfer the learning to their specific sport – discuss long term team goals and individual development plans with players.
For a group to become a team, all members need to understand and agree to a common set of expectations specific to that team, a common method of doing this is to establish team guidelines and goals.
Setting team goals can be helpful in improving motivation for success. Instead of telling your players what their goals are, let them take ownership over their success by having them come up with their own collective goals. Let them come to an agreement about what they want and think they can accomplish together and set milestones for achievement.
Often coaches believe that players share the same goals as themselves and that everyone knows what the team goals are. Rather than assuming that this is the case, coaches should work with their players to identify clear team outcome goals (identify the ‘big picture’) and then strategize what steps (or process goals) need to be done to achieve these objectives.
3 types of goal that any coach needs to be aware of:
- Outcome– This is the end result. For example collecting a minimum of fifty points during the season.
- Process– This is what actions you need to do to achieve your outcome.
- Performance – These are the standards independent of other variables.
The effect of the type of goals
Process + Performance = Outcome
Team guidelines are best determined by your players, not imposed solely by the coach. By encouraging players to define what they expect from one and another as members of the same team, it allows the team to experience ownership and therefore increase the likelihood of achieving success. It is always important to document the agreed upon guidelines, perhaps as an unofficial ‘team contract’.
Once team goals have been established, it is important for coaches to sit down with each player and set individual goals leading to a development plan. Often individual goals are ignored especially in sports teams as it is viewed as unnecessary. By establishing individual development plans for players, coaches are emphasising the importance of each person’s contribution to the overall team success.