As a sport psychologist, I work with individual athletes and teams in a variety of ways. Frequently, this time of year, I am asked the question by coaches and parents about teamwork. For many baseball and softball teams, this is the time of year that coaches are trying to build their teams and are deciding who to choose to make up the team. April is also the time of year for the NFL draft. At the NFL draft combine each spring in Indianapolis, potential draft picks are not only tested for their physical talents and abilities, but also for their psychological makeup. Most of the draft picks are given the Wonderlic test to evaluate their intelligence and aptitude to solve problems. Many teams use this information to determine the psychological strengths and weaknesses of their potential draft picks.
Over the past few seasons, it has become all too obvious that too many players in the NFL and NBA have personal issues that have effected them off the field as well as on it. NBA player, Ron Artest continues to have issues with his temper and personal behavior, while nine (Alan check out this number to make sure it is correct) players on the Cincinnati Bengals have had skirmishes with the law. Recently, Chicago Bears defensive lineman, Tank Johnson was sentenced to three months in jail for possesion of firearms. Obviously, the NFL and NBA need to do a better job of deciding the types of players that they are choosing to play in their leagues.
So, if the pros are having difficulty choosing the types of individuals they want playing on their teams, it will also be difficult for youth sport coaches to get the best players for their team, both physically and psychologically. After all, many coaches don’t get to choose the players on their child’s youth rec team, they often get kids who sign up who are in the same neighborhood or school system. So what is the best way to get everyone on the same page and play together. I believe it starts with the preseason meeting. This is where the coach meets with the parents and athletes and explains his/her philosophy about winning and losing, about his/her expectations and goals for the season and what they will expect in terms of commitements from the athletes and parents.
No matter how much planning a coach puts into getting the season going, there will almost always be personality issues between players along the way. One of the most common questions I am asked by parents and coaches is do players need to get along and be friends in order to play well. The obvious answer is that it is always better when everyone is on the same page, but it is not always necessary. For a basketball or soccer team to click at their best, it is important that all the players, starters and reserves know their roles and what is expected of them for the season. This is where the coach needs to be a good communicator and know when to have the players discuss their issues and resolve them when a crisis occurs.
However, I don’t believe it is essential for everyone to all be the best of friends and always be getting along. Some of the great Oakland A’s teams often had serious disagreements. Several times, Billy Martin and Reggie Jackson had to be separated in the dugout by teammates and coaches before they fought each other, but they still went on to win several championships.
For the best chance of success, it is important to make sure the coach is in charge, but also has an assistant coach who can be a good communicator and someone to bounce ideas off of. For the players, it is always best when there are leaders on the team who are not afraid to express themselves both verbally and by their actions on the field. It is always best to make sure there is an opportunity for players and coaches to discuss their issues when everyone isn’t getting along, before things get out of hand.