Team Unity and How To Improve It

Team unity, also known as culture, is the glue that sticks together the members of sporting teams so that they work together and not against each other.

Does your team work together or are you just a group of individuals?

Team unity is also known by other names such as culture, team cohesion and team chemistry. All of these labels describes the factors that can result in some sporting teams being completely unified. Whilst others can resemble the boys from the famous novel The Lord of the Flies.

Team Unity is possibly the most intriguing aspect of sporting mental toughness. It is without a doubt the area that athletes expect to be good without having to do any work. All athletes understand that to improve muscle strength they’ll need to do some work. Most athletes understand that to improve managing emotions they’ll need to do some work. But most athletes expect their teammates to respect them just by existing.

In other words, the culture of most sporting teams, even the professional ones, is typically not that flash. The second factor is that regardless of the current state of your team’s culture it can be improved. That’s right, if it’s currently poor it can be bettered and if it’s already excellent it can still be improved further.

When Team Unity Falls Apart

Between 2005 and 2015 Kevin Pietersen was the top run scorer for the English men’s nation cricket team. However he was regarded by many of his teammates as a prickly character. They tried to address this but couldn’t. Many sporting teams would simply have accepted this. However, unity was considered so important by The ECB they eventually stopped selecting their top batsman. Kevin Pietersen’s book with the same name is a must read for anyone looking to learn more about the team aspects of elite sport.

Between 2005 and 2015 Kevin Pietersen was the top run scorer for the English men’s nation cricket team. However he was regarded by many of his teammates as a prickly character. They tried to address this but couldn’t.

Many sporting teams would simply have accepted this. However, unity was considered so important by The ECB they eventually stopped selecting their top batsman. Kevin Pietersen’s book with the same name is a must read for anyone looking to learn more about the team aspects of elite sport.

How Is Team Unity Best Improved In Sporting Teams?

The best way but also the most costly is to engage the services of a qualified sport or performance psychologist. I can’t speak for all sport psychologists but at Condor Performance the way we go about this is reasonably simple.

We work mainly with the coaches so that we make ourselves redundant.

One of the main jobs of the coach of a sporting team is to unify the team and them keep them unified. The problem is most of them attempt to do this delicate work under-equipped. This results in millions of well-intended coaches around the world doing an average job of this key component of performance.

So we work with the coaches, ideally one-on-one and put what we call The 10 R’s under the microscope. The 10 R’s refers to five pairs of words that each start with the letter R. They provide a great starting point for discussions on how to improve the unity of any given team.

Roles and Rules

It is virtually impossible for a team to be unified without clear rules and roles. If the individual members are not clear about their roles this will cause frustration and infighting. The ‘blame-game’ is rife in sporting teams with poor role clarification.

The same applies for rules. What is and is not acceptable should form a key part of pre-season for all competitive sporting teams. The most effective rules are confirmed in consultation with all the members of the team. Then they are written down. Then all parties sign ‘on the dotted lin’ to agree to abide by them.

Relationships and Respect

It is important to mention that the members of a team don’t actually need to be the best of friends. In fact, they don’t even really have to like one another. But they do need to respect one another. Mutual respect tends to result from teams whereby cliques are not allowed to form. In other words, there is some kind of relationship between all members of the team. 

Reassurance and Reasons

More for the coaches but important nonetheless is giving frequent reassurance and reasons to the playing group. Humans are not mind-readers. Athletes are humans too. Some love getting reassurance they they are on track. Others need this reassurance. This is where the magic of the ‘why’ come in. Letting players know why they’re progressing or struggling is the magic dust.

Ready and Relaxed

One furphy in elite sport is that one of the best ways to boost team chemistry is to win more. This is like putting the cart before the horse. In actual fact, one of the best ways is to help them prepare very well. Performers who feel ready and relaxed tend to get along much better than their stressed counterparts.

Recognition and Rewards

In sports, the obvious wins are often too obvious. There really is no need to celebrate winning the league or going the entire season undefeated. I am a much greater believer in recognising and celebrating the less obvious wins. What about the time that your teammate smashes her PB on the Beep Test. Or when all of you are able to attend training without anyone having an injury concern. Teams with a strong culture recognise these smaller milestones.

At Condor Performance we practice what we preach. Due to the monthly approach that we use in our consulting we all accrue months. Each time a client pays for another month we add one month to our records for that psychologist. We then celebrate 50, 100, 500, 1000 and 2000 months together. For example below is a short video we made when David reached 2000 months.

If your sporting team is on a tight budget and you’d like to learn more about The R’s then sign up for our online Mental Toughness training program. If, on the other hand, you have some funds to spend on performance consider contacting us at info@condorperformance.com with the details of your sporting team. One of our team will be in touch to explain who we can assist with factors such as team unity.

Author: Gareth J. Mole

Gareth J. Mole is an endorsed Sport and Exercise Psychologist. He is the founder of Condor Performance and co-creator of Metuf™. He lives between Canberra and Sydney (Australia) with his wife, their two children and their fourteen chickens.

2 thoughts on “Team Unity and How To Improve It”

  1. Another great article from you guys – thanks. I really like the way you have taken something potentially very complex and simplified it with the Rs. One R that was missing which is also related to team unity and mental toughness is Reliability – no? If all the members of a sporting team can learn to rely on one another that will surely be a good thing?

    1. Thanks, Sandra. Yes, we’re certainly not suggesting that boosting team unity is limited to the 10 R’s we use in our team building work as performance psychologists. Having said that though, each of these 10 concepts has at least one major peer-reviewed journal article that supports it. Of course, we have used a little creative freedom to make sure that each starts with the letter R – to help with remembering – but to my knowledge, there have not yet been any major studies in sports psychology on the impact of Reliability.

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