Team Unity and Culture

“Team Unity” works the same as all the other mental skills. They don’t become excellent accidentally. What are you and your teammates doing to intentionally improve this essential performance ingredient?

Team Unity. In team sports, we often talk about team unity as playing a vital role in success. But how important is team unity to sporting success? And how do we go about developing it?

Creating a Winning Culture 

In this article, I will mainly use the term team unity. But as is often the case in psychology there are often multiple terms to refer to the same thing. Other common ways to describe team unity include team cohesion, togetherness, chemistry as well as team culture. Note this article was originally written in 2021 but recently updated.

Coaches often talk about creating a “Winning Culture” as one of the keys to success. When we talk about a winning culture, we’re usually referring to a team environment that helps its individuals thrive. So what does the training environment of a team with consistent success look like?

You would likely see a group of individuals with shared values (despite varying individual values). A group working towards a common goal and supporting each other to flourish in their own individual roles. Characteristics such as work ethic, honesty, constructive feedback, and having a positive influence on the people around them would likely be commonplace. If team unity is not a priority then that team limits its opportunity to improve. The unavoidable nature of team sport is that it requires individuals to work together towards a common goal. 

Process Goals In Team Settings

In an effort to develop team unity, it is important firstly to separate outcome-based goals from process-based goals.

Sure, working towards establishing a ‘winning culture’ sounds good and might motivate players (initially), but placing such a large focus on results is not that useful. With every outcome goal, we want process goals as well – preferably a whole bunch of them. We want to place more focus on how we plan to improve compared to how we want to end up. 

We have a lot of influence over our processes. Not only the planning of these processes but carrying them out as well. Outcomes on the other hand, not so much. Why? Because there are a lot of other contributing factors to results. The most obvious and common of these include other people, varying weather conditions, officials, and equipment.

Process goals might include communicating in a compassionate way, showing support for team members through verbal (spoken words) or physical (handshake, pat on the back) signs of support, and being authentic, genuine, and respectful in your interactions with others (through tone of voice, choice of words, body language and eye contact).

Understanding Your Role

One of the trickiest aspects about working in a team setting is that you basically have a group of individuals with different experiences and roles trying to work together. In a team setting it is vital each member understands their own ability, role, and expectations. Team members need to be able to make judgments about when to rely on others and when to step up and perform. Without an understanding of these fundamentals, you’ll have multiple individuals trying to do the same thing. Or worse, nobody there at all.

For the team to progress individual players need to progress. So it is important for players to recognise any progress they have made, examine how they contributed to the team outcome, and highlight areas that need to be improved on an individual level.

For example, how was your footwork, passing, and communication regardless of the fact that we won/lost the game? The team outcome is not a reliable indicator of their individual performance. It is important for individuals to reflect on their own performance as well as that of the team. Remember there are many things outside of their influence that may have contributed to the outcome.

Culture, Atmosphere, and Communication

For team unity to flourish then the group atmosphere needs to be a positive and cohesive one. Positive and cohesive team cultures are made up of a whole range of factors but here are the most common:

  • Player attitudes
  • team motivation
  • Individual empowerment
  • Team identity

Team identity refers to the distinct characteristics of the team that make it unique. It is strongest when each team member takes pride in their membership in the group. Individuals also need to place the values of their team above their own. Easier said than done, right?

Effective communication is also a huge part of establishing that positive team atmosphere. Open communication needs to be able to occur without fear of disrupting the relationship between coaches and players or the players themselves.

One way individuals can provide feedback in a group setting without damaging those important relationships is through solution-focused feedback, as opposed to problem-focused feedback.

Solution-based feedback involves highlighting what individuals could be doing instead, or should start doing differently. Problem-centered feedback on the other hand is where the problem is highlighted, and individuals are told not to do those things again.

Pointing out what players have done wrong and asking them not to do it again might seem helpful, but in actual fact, this can lead to a lot of overthinking on their end around NOT making the same mistake. Keeping the feedback solution-focused helps guide their thinking towards how they can do that skill better, which indirectly prevents them from making the same error again.

Helping players solve the problem rather than just highlighting the problem is one way of making them feel supported in their development, and this kind of feedback should extend between players to foster an environment of camaraderie and ensure team members feel supported by each other.


It is important to distinguish liking our team members from respecting them. In the sport and performance domains, respect plays a huge role in fostering an environment where team unity can flourish. Individuals might differ in their approach to the work and what they value, but agreeing with or liking the approaches and values of everyone we work with isn’t necessarily required for unity to thrive. Respecting them, however, is.

Respect is defined as demonstrating a high regard for someone or their ideas regardless of their differences and in order to create an environment where individuals push themselves beyond their limits each day they need to feel valued and respected by others around them. We can choose to communicate with others whose ideas we don’t like with complete disregard, or we can choose to show our appreciation for the strengths of those ideas and offer alternative ones. The team environment needs to foster non-judgment to allow individuals to take risks and step outside their comfort zones on an individual level as they work towards that common goal.

Let The Score Take Care Of Itself

The take-home message from this piece is that in order to establish a winning culture, we might want to focus less on winning. Rather the focus should be on establishing supportive environments for team members where they feel valued and empowered to achieve their individual best for the good of the team. And the goal of their work should be more centered around the journey rather than the destination. That is, focusing on the here and now, what we can be working on that is within our influence to give ourselves the best chance of success later on, rather than working with success at the forefront of our minds. In the performance world, we often see the best results achieved by those who don’t focus on results at all. As legendary NFL coach Bill Walsh famously said “The score takes care of itself” (see right).

Get In Touch

Has this article piqued your interest in improving either your mental health or mental aspects of your sport/performance? Then get in touch via one of these methods: ⏩ Email us directly at [email protected] and let us know more about you and how we can help. ⏩ Fill in one of our four Mental Toughness Questionnaires and tick the box at the end when it asks if you’d like to receive info about our services. We typically respond within 48 hours.


Yukelson, D. (1997). Principles of effective team building interventions in sport: A direct services approach at Penn State University. Journal of applied sport psychology, 9(1), 73-96.

Sport Psychology for Kids

Sport Psychology for Kids, by provisional psychologist Darren Godwin based in Melbourne, looks at how traditional sport psychology methods are adapted for younger performers and athletes.

Sport Psychology for Kids
Let’s Talk About Sport Psychology for Kids and Teenagers.


As one of the provisional psychologists at Condor Performance, I have found myself working with a number of younger athletes and competitors. Basically, a healthy chunk of nine to fourteen-year-olds. It has provided me with an opportunity to reflect on the concept of Sport Psychology for Kids. In other words, the way in which traditional sport psychology methodology is adapted for much younger clients. I hope, in sharing some of these reflections that I can provide some general tips to parents/carers/coaches of younger athletes and performers. This is not to imply that the suggestions are not applicable to all athletes. It’s just that they are particularly pertinent to those yet to hit puberty.

Why Do Kids Play Sport?

There are many reasons why children play sports. But to keep it simple the biggest motivations are exercise, social, mastery, and fun. Or in other words, they want to be liked, be good at stuff and have fun and get fit at the same. Sport, especially competitive sport, is unique in providing this irresistible cocktail.

They have begun school and are starting to absorb a lot of information. They want to show others that they are capable. In many ways, sports contests are the first time they will have the ability to show their skills whilst being directly observed by their friends and family. It’s hard to get a standing ovation when you ace a maths test. But scoring the winning try/runs/goal and the cheer from the sidelines can be a huge incentive to try and do it again.

The Fun Factor

The Fun Factor is also a major part of sport psychology for kids. Fun is a subjective term and it can be difficult to understand this from the child’s perspective at times. In simple behavioural terms, if something is fun we’re more likely to want to do it again.

What I try to encourage caretakers to consider is the main driver of the child’s experience of fun and development from their point of view. As adults, it is very easy for us to impart what we want and miss what the child is telling us they’re trying to accomplish. This is important because we can easily crumple the child’s sense of fun by over-imposing our values on their training. I’m sure it feels strange to sit down with an eight-year-old and let them help you design some of their training sessions. But you’d be amazed at what happens when you try this.

When the fun goes it is hard to get it back. This typically leads to kids deciding they are not really ‘sporty’ and quitting competitive sports altogether. For those interested, here’s an article and study on why kids play and quit sports (Visek et al., 2015).

What Can We Control?

When you go over a list of things that your attention goes towards during competition, it does not take long before you realise that you can’t control most of them. Burning effort and energy on factors outside of our control is something that kids are especially susceptible to. I do this exercise with young competitors where we write this list out. Most of the time they can accurately identify what is within their control (or influence) and what is not. The hardest part, as is the case with most sport psychology techniques, is applying it in a beneficial way.

So crucial is this mental skill that the younger it can be developed the better. All too often the consequence of this exercise is that the young athlete will have a short list of half a dozen aspects that they have a huge amount of influence on. In our experience as psychologists, it’s rare that these items are the same ones their parents and coaches are telling them to focus on. Hence why one of the cornerstones of great sport psychology for kids is making sure that caregivers and coaches are mentally upskilled as well. This is one of the main reasons why at Condor Performance we allow and often encourage the families of our younger clients to sit in on sessions. You can hear more about this via the answer to this FAQ.

Processes Over Outcomes

A process is a series of actions that can be repeated or have a sequence. Outcomes, on the other hand, are results or the byproduct of some actions. In the context of sport and performance, both training and competitions can have processes and outcomes. Let’s take basketball for example. Training processes could be all the practice shots attempted at the end of squad training. But the number of balls that go through the hoop and any credit you get (or did not get) from the coaches are outcomes. These two are almost the same in an actual competitive basketball match but not exactly. Suddenly in a match, you have a defender who will be trying to actually reduce the number of shots you attempt. So for this process, you might need to be trying to make shots by running hard. Suddenly, the number of shots you get joins the number of points you score in the outcome column.

When I ask young competitors what they enjoy about their sport one common answer is “winning”. It is wonderful to hear this accompanied by a big grin however for kids this is usually the extent of the concept.

Shifting their focus toward the process and away from the outcome is not easy but can pay huge dividends throughout the rest of their sporting career. Imagine how much better placed a 10-year-old is when they learn to become more process orientated and use that for the next 25 years of their career. A ‘win at all cost’ mentality is potentially understandable for highly paid professional athletes. But not for youngsters.

Thinking About Winning

Thinking about winning, or any outcome for that matter does not actually help us achieve that outcome. I know it feels like it does and I know many well-intended adults will tell you as such but it just is not the case. Our attention is better placed on the actions that we need to perform in order to give us a higher probability of that outcome occurring.

Which of these two hypothetical children do you think will fair better in their upcoming soccer/football match? The child who is saying to themselves “I must win, I must play well, I must impress my friends”. Or the child who is reminding themself before kick-off “dribble when in space, spread out and use the whole pitch and run hard, I can rest after the match is over”? A Process Oriented Mindset (POM) will also help children manage their own expectations. They do not need to produce something each week, they just need to aim to give their best effort and let the processes take care of the outcomes. Hmm, that would be a great title for a book (see right)!

Delayed Gratification

In today’s world, it’s very easy to access things that bring us immediate pleasure. Largely thanks to advancements in technology we can buy most things online and have them the next day. We can watch almost any TV show or movie at the press of a button.

Communicating with groups of friends only takes a few seconds in 2022. However, there are still a number of very important human experiences that don’t have short-term solutions. These include the development of meaningful relationships and the mastery of skills.

Delayed gratification is putting off short-term enjoyment for long-term benefits. It is important for young competitors to build an understanding that their improvement will not happen overnight. If they have big goals, they might have to skip watching TV for some practice in the backyard. A much more in-depth article on this subject can be seen here.

The Relationship Between Action And Emotions

Sport provides a wonderful opportunity for children to learn about their emotions. It is very important that we start to teach them that it is okay to experience these emotions. We are all human so our lives will be filled with a full array of feelings. What we are looking to do is model for the child how we act whilst we experience those emotions.

Where we get into trouble is when we view certain emotions as undesirable. We then get into a position where we want to remove ‘the nerves’ for example because they make us uncomfortable. This results in an endless struggle because ultimately we don’t have much influence over our emotions.

We are really looking to create a habit where our actions are not conditioned by our emotions. There are a number of examples of this happening in daily living such as getting up early in the morning to catch a flight or going to school. In those moments our feelings aren’t necessarily positive but our actions are more aligned with what we want to accomplish. What we want to do is help kids increase their capacity to respond to these emotions instead of reacting. Basically, we want to reduce impulsivity as per this recent article by my colleague and supervisor Gareth J. Mole.


Resilience is a very alluring quality. When asked, most people respond by saying they want it or that they want to help their child develop it. We know a lot more about its benefits rather than how to develop it. The Oxford Dictionary defines resilience as “the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties”. This implies that the person has to experience something difficult first.

This puts a completely different twist on training. When practice situations are littered with difficulties this is a golden opportunity to develop resilience. The child is essentially practicing accepting the challenges, accepting their emotions, and developing helpful actions that basically equate to recovering quickly.

A wonderful post-match process is reflecting on the performance and writing down what you want to make the focus of your next practice. This reinforces the process over the outcomes, as mentioned above, and gives them a tool to continue developing their skills so that they are better equipped for the next time they meet the challenge.

Do You Want To Get In Touch?

Has this article piqued your interest in improving either your mental health or mental aspects of your sport/performance? Then get in touch via one of these methods: ⏩ Email us directly at [email protected] and let us know more about you and how we can help. ⏩ Fill in one of our four Mental Toughness Questionnaires and tick the box at the end when it asks if you’d like to receive info about our services. We typically respond within 48 hours.