Teamwork In Sports

BY DR. VIRGINIA SAVAGE FOR FLORIDA TODAY

When I ask soccer teams what their goal for the season will be, the most common response is teamwork. Yet, I am not sure that players (of any age) really know what that means.

Does it mean, for instance, that one player should give up a chance for a winning shot if someone else is in a better position and has a better chance? Does it mean players should show restraint after being incorrectly flagged to avoid penalties for the team? Or does it mean that frustration and disappointment should be put aside to cheer teammates to victory when sitting on the bench?

Teamwork is so much more than playing well when everything is going great. It is really about rising above adversity, both personally and collectively, to become a powerful and unified force that seems impossible to beat. Think about it. When you witness an unbeatable team you are witnessing unity of purpose, a collective passion for playing a good game, and unwavering support for each other. It is as if the team has forgotten that there is an audience at all.

Each team is unique, in soccer and in any sport. The principles of developing a solid sense of teamwork must be understood and applied to each group and situation with regard to challenges and potential. To transform a group of players to a real team, consider these strategies…

Goal setting: Everyone must understand the importance and connection between keeping promises and making goals. To agree to goals without commitment is a losing proposition. The consequence is the same as a broken promise. Trust is diminished and ultimately people stop believing that the team will really work hard enough to achieve goals that are set. Team goals should be reached through consensus, so that even those who are not yet sure are agreeing to fully support the team goal as a promise. And, as an important side-note, individual goals should be secondary to team goals.

Respectful interpersonal relations with team members: It is essential for coaches and parents to help players to understand how personal and team values affect team cohesion (and to reflect it themselves). Obvious efforts should be made to develop ways to improve mutual respect and communication among team members. It is definitely worth spending time in group meetings toward this goal. Coaches should help teammates to learn how to manage stress, communicate effectively, solve team problems, and resolve conflicts.

Building a great team is a powerful endeavor, especially when the team mission or philosophy takes the experience beyond the individual athlete, coach, or season. Identifying and assessing team strengths, challenges, and breakthroughs help to sustain the potential for growth and goals become more deeply internal than external. Each player can begin taking steps toward achieving collective goals that have been determined together with clear action plans, targeting specific behaviors and timelines. Systematic assessment of team performance helps to maintain the attention and motivation that supports the philosophy of teamwork.

It is true that definitions of teamwork can seem fuzzy or even confusing on the surface. But teamwork in action isn’t fuzzy at all. It’s as clear as the nose on your face when everyone knows what it means in terms of collective goals, respect and support for each other and when it all comes together on the field, it is pure magic.

Dr. Virginia Savage is a sport psychology consultant offering services locally and nationally in a wide variety of sports.