Often in professional sport you come across smaller teams that are able to produce winning performances over teams that are leagues above them?
One of the explanations for this is that the team has managed to collectively create a unit that is stronger than sum of its parts.
This article will provide you with some useful ways to help galvanise and strengthen the team-unit.
Many successful teams and sports clubs like to fill up communal areas with inspirational quotes. These quotes are usually compiled from all walks of life, often coming from famous individuals of our time.
Quotes are usually displayed with the purpose of evoking positive feelings within the team members that view them. Confidence, drive, passion, commitment, and team unity are some of the most popular feelings that these quotes are designed to create within the athletes and the coaches.
It is important to display inspirational quotes that are short and straight to the point. It is very unlikely that during the pressure of heated competitions, athletes and coaches will take the time to read quotes which are too long.
Here is a list of a few quotes that I have used in the past:
‘Simplicity is genius’ Anonymous
‘If you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail’ Benjamin Franklin
‘Man becomes what he believes himself to be’ Gandhi
‘Sports do not build character they reveal it’ John Wooden
I personally love the use of music to create a positive team atmosphere.
However the process of building a set of music tracks, especially for team sports is a little more complicated than it sounds.
Music preference is highly subjective, with tastes spanning across a wide ranges of genres. Consequently it becomes difficult to produce a team compilation that satisfies everyone’s musical tastes. Furthermore, it is inevitable that some athletes will prefer not to listen to any music at all in the dressing room.
Working in professional football, I fell into the trap of thinking that I could build a team compilation that will have a positive effect on everyone that listened to it.
I have now arrived at the belief that the best approach is to avoid building a set of tracks for the whole team, and concentrate on one song only.
I would advise handing out a list of 20 tracks that are renowned for their ability to fire up sports teams, and then allow each athlete to shortlist their three favourite tracks. The coach or the team captain can then take the highest overall ranking track and select it as the team anthem.
Sounds like a lot of effort just to pick a track, but from my own personal experience at the top level of sport attention to detail is often the difference between success and failure.
The one track approach especially for team sports can have a number of listed benefits:
It can create a sense of community, as everyone has contributed to the selection of the track.
It can create a positive internal state in the individual athletes when they listen to the music track, increasing the likelihood that the athletes will perform well.
It streamlines the athletes focus in the dressing room, reminding them that they need to be at their best in order to be victorious.
The first to rise and the last to sleep
The human brain prioritises information in an unusual way.
Think of a string of 7 numbers that you have to recite. In terms of recall and recollection you are more likely to remember the first and the last digits of this string.
Therefore when coaches are communicating team tactics, and expressing words of encouragement to their athletes and other coaches, it is a good idea to place the most important information at the beginning and at the end of a team talk.
By doing so, you dramatically increase the likelihood that the important information is retained and applied in the competitive arena by the athletes.
During my 3 years working at Colchester United FC, this technique was something that I regret not being able to implement.
The brain does not distinguish between real and imagined events, and because of this basic tenet, visualisation is regularly seen to have a profound effect on those that use it.
Some argue visualisation is more effective if it can be performed as a group exercise.
Perhaps 5 minutes before the team have to go out and perform in training or in a competitive situation, the head coach can use this time to get the team to visualise their individual and group successes.
An effective approach to conducting a group visualisation would be to first get the team feeling relaxed and focused by taking some deep breaths.
Once the head coach is happy that all the athletes are relaxed and in a resourceful state the coach can proceed with the group mental rehearsal.
Two highly effective group mental rehearsals would be to get the team to visualise how they want the up and coming event to unfold as a team performance, and/or to get the individual team members to mentally recreate times when they performed at their best.
A typical transcription from a coach introducing a team rehearsal may be:
Right guys take a minute to get yourself into a comfortable position. Take a few deep breaths to make sure that you are relaxed and focused, and in your own time close your eyes and allow your mind to take you back to the last time you performed at your best. PAUSE (3 seconds) And when you have located one of your best performances, recreate all the sights, sounds, and feelings that you felt during this match winning performance. Imagine that you are sitting in a cinema viewing yourself on large panoramic screen, viewing a picture that is big, clear, and full of vivid colour, with loud and sharp sounds. As you continue to watch yourself playing at your best, drift into the video screen so you are now viewing everything from your own eyes. Take a few minutes to notice how good it feels when you perform like this, and become aware of the fact that you can perform like this whenever you want to. Now only open your eyes when you know that you are going to deliver your best out there today
Notice the constant use or ‘and’ and ‘as’ in the transcript. This typical hypnotic language is used to keep the flow of speech smooth. If the speech delivered by the coach stops and starts, it becomes increasingly difficult for the athlete to effectively follow the coaches instructions, consequently weakening the impact of the visualisation exercise.
Affirmations are positive verbal statements used to streamline focus and create a determined inner state.
Affirmations are even more powerful if they can be spoken out aloud collectively. Soldiers in the armed forces regularly have to participate in group chants to focus their minds on their job and their duty. The same can be applied in dressing room for all team sports.
Much like quotes, team affirmations need to be short, sharp and have impact. Developing effective verbal statements to express out aloud will often work to pull the team together, helping to direct the athletes’ minds and bodies towards their common cause.
Team affirmations can also have the added benefit of intimidating the opposition. The New Zealand National Rugby Team are famous for performing the world renowned Haka, which can be likened to an elaborate team affirmation. Whether the team affirmations are used in the privacy of the dressing room, or publicly like the All Blacks do, they are all effective in raising the sense togetherness of a team unit.
Remember: The louder, and the more powerful the affirmations are the more effective they are in creating their desired effect.
During the build up to an important competition making physical contact with fellow coaches and team mates can help to unify the team’s sense of presence.
A regular sight in team sports is the famous team huddle in the competitive arena. This is a common example of team physical contact that usually has the effect of creating feelings of commitment and togetherness within the team.
Shaking hands and hugs are also common acts of physical contact that also help to raise this collective spirits of the team and its members.
Sometimes less is more
At the top level of professional sport all athletes will experience their fair share of pressure.
When the human mind experiences pressure, it is liable to lose some of its capacity to retain information. This point is particularly important to bear in mind when team talks are delivered in a tense and pressure filled environment.
In pressurised situations it is advisable that the team talks become condensed to only communicating the most important messages to the team. If the team is overwhelmed with a hundred and one things to remember it will only feed their feelings of apprehension and tension, and consequently it is likely to damage their performance.