Nov 15, 2021 • 4 min read
Whether coaching youth teams, rec leagues or even pro levels, many coaches aim to build a strong team by adding the strongest individual players they can find. Sure, it makes sense to prioritize talent when stitching together a successful team. Yet, building a team of athletes who will work together well depends on more than just skill. Even a team with the most skilled players in the world won’t win if they can’t work together and exhibit strong teamwork.
Teamwork gets overused in sports and in life, but it’s essential — especially at the youth sports level. It’s a hard term to define, and it depends so much on the personalities, character, experience and maturity of each team member. Building a team takes a deep understanding of each athlete, and requires a strategic approach when it comes to encouraging them to play for each other and not just themselves.
So, what are some strategies coaches can use to foster teamwork? Here are some tips for coaches to help their players build connections both on and off the field.
Make your coaching strategy about more than just winning. Show up to each practice and every game with a positive outlook, and this will set the tone for the players as well.
Praise the players on their strengths, but be vocal on how the players can work together and help each other. Model how to use clear, positive communication. Avoid singling out players for mistakes and instead be generous with positive feedback.
As a coach, you can be real about how good it feels to score a goal or be named MVP. But the goal here is to show how players need one another in order to make a real impact. Playing for each other means helping make the key pass, giving others opportunities to score, and celebrating others’ wins.
Bring it back to basics. Be clear about which positions are responsible for which types of plays. Help your players understand their roles and how each role works together to achieve a goal. This may feel rudimentary to some players, but focus on how it can be exciting and empowering to work together as a unit. When players understand how each individual position supports the other, they can visualize working together and show them the significance of their role outside of their own glory. This kind of approach keeps them from feeling a joint mission, knowing each person is crucial.
Defining goals as a team means there’s more buy-in from every player. Having a singular mission can help keep everyone motivated. One idea is to help visualize playing together at big matches or tournaments, or listing out team values and posting it in the locker room for everyone to see before and after each practice and game.
While having lofty goals can be motivating, it’s important to have team-oriented goals that are within reach. Consider listing out goals around fitness achievements, or team bests —things that have less to do with winning against the opposing team and more about celebrating positivity and group wins. Players can also share their personal goals with the team, who can help offer support and encouragement throughout the season.
We’ve all heard a lot about team-building exercises, but there’s a reason these have value. Learn more about the kinds of team-building exercises you can work into your coaching routine. Key tips: keep the activities movement-oriented, and keep it fun!
When thinking of coaching strategies for better teamwork, prioritize building connections among your players by staying positive, reinforcing strong values, and making it all about having fun.
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