“The way a team plays as a whole determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don’t play together, the club won’t be worth a dime.” –Babe Ruth
All coaches try to figure out how to get the most out of their team. Successful, veteran coaches understand the importance of the team environment in sustained success. Some spend countless hours stewing over how to corral that elusive, magical component of good team chemistry. If we achieve it, it’s likely that it will propel the team to an incredible season. And chemistry can help your team exceed expectations even when you don’t have the most skilled players. I’ve seen it happen to my teams on more than one occasion. Even though we were decidedly less skilled and less athletic, we played with an ease and intensity devoid of stress that translated into a determination and desire to play for each other – to support each other. You could see it and feel it and I firmly believe it wasn’t an accident that it happened. We worked to make it happen. I’m not claiming that it’s always possible to reach this point – there are lots of moving parts – but you’re much more likely to get there if you have a basic understanding of team chemistry and a plan.
What is team chemistry?
It’s hard to definitively explain team chemistry, but there are typically some common interpersonal components. These can occur naturally among team members or they may need to be nurtured. That’s where the coach comes in. You can decide whether to share this list with your players. Hopefully, the process described here will stimulate discussion that leads them to their own discoveries, which are always more valuable.
Using this list as a barometer for progress, you can make sure each point is somehow incorporated into your discussions with players.
Here are 8 seminal characteristics of good team chemistry:
- No drama. Youth players are notorious for making a big deal about a lot of things … boyfriend/girlfriend problems, interpersonal issues with a teammate, problems with the coach, decisions about starters and playing time, being “slighted” by an innocent remark and distracting your teammates with trivial personal issues. You get the idea. Teammates or coaches may have to tactfully address this. Drama has to become unacceptable.
- Expect mistakes. The coach believes and actively accepts mistakes as part of the learning process while clarifying acceptable (smart) risks. For example, when to “go for it” with a big swing at the ball as opposed to being more deliberate with a poor set.
- Mutual desire to support each other on and off the court. Players reject divisive behavior like gossip and allowing “clicks” to develop and instead work to develop trusting, inclusive relationships.
- Sense of humor. Players and coaches should feel free to laugh (appropriately) about funny things that happen in the gym and on the court. Many coaches need to lighten up!
- Mutual respect. All people connected to the team matter as an important part of the puzzle.
- Embrace the challenge. Framing or reframing important competitions as opportunities can reduce player’s feelings of fear, apprehension and nervousness.
- Selfless and resilient. Rather than playing for individual accolades, members of the team play for and support each other, especially in tough situations. For players, the focus should be on the team, not themselves.
- Convictions, beliefs and self-confidence become stronger than doubts. Players don’t suppress emotions, they become aware of them and use them in a positive way. Joyless, stoic, poker-faced play rarely produces long-term positive results. It inhibits the critical energetic interconnectedness among players.