Two-time Olympian on cultivating cohesiveness with young athletes
By Dr. Cristina Fink
Throughout the pandemic, rules about sports have varied by state, county, and school district. Regardless, the meaning and impact of teams remain the same.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, we have been told to follow social distancing rules. However, it is important to remember that this refers to physical distance – not social distance. In this trying time, we are reminded of how important our relationships are, and how being a part of a team can keep young athletes connected and give them a sense of community.
Teams allow us to have a sense of belonging, and they give us a place to socialize, set goals, work together, and share passions and dreams. In this unique time, it is important to remember that there are various ways in which you can help youth and teens grow as players and as a team.
The following are four areas through which you can help your players better themselves, as they are recognized as key factors for maintaining motivation*:
Autonomy: Encourage your players to seek out information, make decisions, and set personal goals. The team is a safe place when coaches make it clear that mistakes are viewed as part of growth and improvement. No one learned to walk without falling a few times! Leaders in any area are constantly setting personal goals to push themselves to be better. Encourage your players to share their ideas with teammates and you so that you can keep each other on track.
Competence: Stress to players to keep using this time to hone their individual skills. Have them take time to work on mastering skills individually and in small groups to bring back to the whole group. Have them focus on knowing their strengths and weaknesses and explore how they can use those talents to help and support each other. Make sure they are also challenging each other to improve.
Relatedness: As a team, players share values, goals, interests, and friendships. Your team is a community on and off the field. Cheering for one another and supporting each other may start on the field but can easily continue outside.
Purpose: Help players learn to understand what excites them, what they care about, what their teammates care about, and the overall goal of the team. Make sure they are working on everything they need to stay connected and informed and are making an effort to connect with their teammates and coaches about what creates meaning for both them and their team.
Regardless of the physical distance we need to maintain, encourage your young athletes to take advantage of this time to reflect, to grow, and to strengthen themselves, knowing that they are part of a team and a community that is better together. This year has impacted sports in many ways, but one of its most enduring effects is the way in which it has shown how important a community of players is for all involved.
*Adapted from Deci & Ryan (2000) and Thomas, K.W. (2009)
Dr. Cristina Fink, a leading psychologist who competed in the 1988 and 1992 Summer Olympics in the high jump for Mexico, is the Mental Performance Advisor for the Elite Clubs National League.
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