Ask The Experts
Creating team cohesiveness
Q: I coach a youth soccer team and one of the 11-year old girls on my team is a super talented player but she can also be very condescending to her teammates at times. What can I do to get her to respect her teammates so that the team cohesiveness I’m trying to instill isn’t ruined?
A: It is nice to hear from a coach who recognizes a potentially problematic situation and plans to address it early. Problems that are addressed when they crop up tend to be resolved more quickly and effectively.
Because youth sport teams are part of the larger community of coaches, families and athletes, involving these groups in finding solutions can provide the foundation for lasting change.
Detailed below are steps that can be taken by the coach, families and team.
Coach: The coach should make sure that she or he has the information and energy needed to change the situation for the better. In this case, it appears that the coach is ready and eager to improve the team situation.
Families: It can be helpful to meet with families and review the philosophy and goals of the team. Parents often expect to bring players to practices and games and to provide snacks and drinks. Parents can also help in other important ways. Coaches can use an in person meeting, email or text message to ask parents to talk with their children before each training session and game and to remind children to listen to the coach, work hard and support their teammates. Specific examples of supportive comments that the coach would like to hear on the field from players and from the sidelines from parents can be provided to reinforce the supportive approach message.
The team: When working with the team, the coach may want to provide a drill or interactive activity to highlight the team climate he or she wants to create. One such drill involves creating scenarios for the team to act out and discuss. The coach may want to start out with a successful situation, calling up a player to act out scoring a goal and having other players act out their responses to her. The goal scorer can discuss how the team’s responses to her made her feel. The team can also talk about how it felt to cheer her on. The coach may then try having an athlete act out performing poorly and have some players respond to this situation. Again, the player can talk about how she feels after having made an error and experiencing teammate responses. The team might then discuss what they should say to each other to play better after mistakes. The discussion could end with a concrete plan related to what they will say and do on the field to reinforce positive outcomes. When they return to the field, the coach may want to go out of their way to compliment the players when they meet their appropriate talk goals.
Individual athlete: Talking privately and directly to the athlete who has made the concerning comments in the past and encouraging her to take a leadership role in supporting her team can be an effective strategy.
Identifying a problem is the first step to finding a solution. Involving the coach, families, team and athlete in the solution can lay the foundation for an improved team climate. A collaborative approach to problem solving can also serve as a foundation for solving problems in the future.
Dr. Judy L. Van Raalte is a professor of psychology at Springfield College in Springfield, Mass., a Certified Consultant of the Association for Applied Sport Psychology and listed in the United States Olympic Committee Sport Psychology Registry. Dr. Van Raalte has presented at conferences in 18 countries, published over 90 articles in peer-reviewed journals, and produced more than 20 sport psychology videos (http://www.vbvideo.com). She is a fellow of the American Psychological Association and the Association for Applied Sport Psychology.
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