Elite teams that consistently perform at a high level exhibit a significant difference compared to their inconsistent elite counterparts: bonding. Being cohesive aids in team success. Cohesiveness is built through effective communication, shared experiences, positive interactions, related challenges, and vulnerable story telling that provides a deeper, more meaningful connection. During pre-season, in-season, post-season, and even off-season training, many teams tend to focus predominantly on skills related to their sport, conditioning/weight training, plays, and other more physical components related to sport. Teams of course should focus on these aspects because they are physically performing, however, adding team-building that truly cultivates chemistry, communication, and connection will develop a more successful team. The more valued an athlete feels, the more value they will add.
For this purpose, my favorite team-building activities are the ones that delve deep into who an athlete really is. When athletes are able to comfortably share things about themselves, mutual respect is gained, which creates that common sense of value. There are six team-building activities I’ll share with you that I prefer when truly facilitating “bonding.”
1. Word Wall: Allow each member of the team to choose a word that drives them and will also encourage other members of their team, such as, tough, care, communicate, serve, persevere, respect, motivate, and so on. Each person’s word should match him or her. Once each team member has chosen a word, create a word wall (poster, sign, etc.) so each person’s word is recognizable to the team daily.
2. Defining Moment: Have members of the team share a defining moment in their life, possibly something never shared before to the team. Typically, leaders or captains share first due to their role on the team. This is a simple activity that is powerful and can promote an immediate, greater connection among teammates.
3. If you really knew me, you would know____________.: Introduce this statement, write it on the board or however you choose to present. If what is being shared seems too superficial, a coach or leader may need to model a more vulnerable completion of the sentence to get the ball rolling. Once teammates begin to share greater stories, they become connected in a more meaningful and powerful way.
4. Fuel the Tank: Supply each player with a folder that has a picture of a car on it and their name. Leave these folders in the locker room on a table or somewhere easily accessible. These folders represent each player’s “energy tank.” Also, leave index cards on the table or in the locker room where players can grab a card, write something positive (fuel) on it about a teammate, and put it in their folder (fuel/fill their energy tank). The folders and cards are left out throughout a season and players are encouraged to fill their teammates’ energy tanks after practices and games with positive fuel. This can create more positive interaction and general appreciation, promoting reciprocated respect and value.
5. Safe Seat: Dabo Swinney, the head football coach at Clemson University has been known to use this exercise. Put a “safe seat” in the middle of the room and have each player sit in it and answer a set of questions about their life. These questions could already be made up by the coaches or by the team. What is shared in the room stays in the room, hence the “safe seat.” This allows each team member to feel safe while being vulnerable and transparent.
6. Three Questions: Why do you do what you do (play the sport)? What do you want to accomplish? How do you want to be remembered? Post these three questions on a board or present them however you choose and have each player answer them. Allow players to share their responses. This not only encourages positive communication and appreciation, but it also allows for players to focus back on their “why,” supporting their actions for today.
Cohesive, consistently successful teams form intentionally. Along with the physical skill and ability, they are built through bonding experiences involving positive communication and interactions, common occurrences, and vulnerable sharing that allow teammates to connect on a deeper, more meaningful level. Through the deeper connection created, members feel more respected and valued, in turn, giving more value to the team.
Gordon, J. (2016). Top 10 team building ideas. The Jon Gordon Companies. Retrieved from: www.jongordon.com/positive-tip-team-building.html.