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by Karlene Sugarman, M.A.

Updated 11/25/11

There are many group dynamics that take place within a sporting team. One of the most important is cohesion. One is always hearing about how important it is for a team to "gel" or "bond" or "have good chemistry." Cohesive teams can achieve dramatic and awesome things. The way players interact has a tremendous impact on the way a team performs. As Hall (1960) put it, "The fittest to survive and succeed are those able to find their strength in cooperation, able to build teams based upon mutual helpfulness, and responsibility for oneís fellow teammates." (p. 202)

The more cohesive a team is, the more it encourages peak performance in its members. If cohesion is lacking it can often prevent the team from reaching itsí potential. Shouldnít teams spend time and energy developing a cohesive environment? I think the problem is that many teams arenít sure what cohesion is and how to go about developing and maintaining a cohesive environment. To often the unspoken attitude is, "If it happens, thatís great, but if not, well, we donít have a close group this year and thereís not much that can be done."

In the past, the concept of cohesion has been defined in many ways. In the sporting world, one definition is most widely used and accepted, and it is the one we will use. Cohesion is the total field of forces which act on members to remain in a particular group (Festinger, Schacter, & Back, 1950). People will usually refer to their team as cohesive if the members get along, are loyal and are united in the pursuit of its goals.

Merely being together at workouts and games doesnít necessarily guarantee a team will be cohesive and successful, it simply means that they are occupying the same space at the same time. A cohesive team can be distinguished from a noncohesive team by many characteristics. A cohesive team has well-defined roles and group norms, common goals, a positive team identity, a good working relationship, shared responsibility, respect, positive energy, trust, a willingness to cooperate, unity, good communication, pride in membership, and synergy. Another indicator of the amount of cohesiveness in a team is the frequency of statements of we and our, in contrast to statements of I, me and mine. The we is just as important as the me. Developing cohesion is something that takes time and effort, but it is well worth the investment.

To establish cohesion, everyone needs to be on the same page when it comes to team goals. If everyone is striving towards the same thing this will help cohesion develop. Productivity must be established by setting challenging and specific goals. Making sure the members know what the individual goals are, for themselves and their teammates, is very important. If you know what your teammates are striving for, many times you can aid them in their endeavor, which will lead to a more cohesive relationship. There can be no hidden agendas by any of the members, their goals must coincide with team goals. Whatís good for the team has to be good for the individual and visa versa.

Having periodic team meetings is a good way to check in to make sure everything is going all right on the team. This provides an opportunity for the team members to spend some time together off the field where life is not so hectic. This way a coach can ask for input, and players can tell others what they see happening, or what they see isnít happening. There is no chaos and no rushing; it is a meeting with the sole purpose of processing what is going on.

Direct assessment, as given by the players, is the most accurate way to determine the amount of cohesiveness on a team. There is not substitute for the playerís own perception of what is going on not only for him, but also for the team that he is playing on. How a player views the interworkings on the team is very valuable information when evaluating the level of team cohesion.

  1. There should be mutual respect among members. You canít have a cohesive group on the field if you donít respect your teammates. You donít have to necessarily love them off the field, but you better love them on the field and respect them both on and off the field. You are all fighting for a common goal and there is a special closeness that goes along with this. The 1979 Pittsburgh Pirates demonstrated this with their We are family attitude both on and off the field. A sort of "esprit de corps" mentality. Also, when there is a strong level of respect it will also reinforce the merit of a teammateís feedback.

  2. There should be effective two-way communication that is clear and direct. Good communication skills result in an increase in self-esteem, respect, trust and decision making skills. Trust is an ongoing process; it will be tested time and time again.

  3. There also needs to be a feeling of importance among the team. You should do your best to make each member feel like they are a part of the team and contribute something important. The phrase treat others as you would like to be treated applies here. Know the needs of your teammates and how you can help make them feel like they are a viable part of the team. "Thatís what we call it, a big family, and everyone realizes that and thatís why weíre so cohesive" (San Francisco 49ers Vice President/ Director of the 49ers Foundation, Lisa DeBartolo).

  4. Having continuity in practices, and in every part of the team, can contribute to the cohesiveness of the group. Familiarity breeds not only confidence but also a sense of comfort among the team. Also, by placing team members in situations where interaction is necessary, cohesion will increase.

We have taken a look at what cohesion is and how important it is to develop and nurture it on a team any team. Only good things can come from bonding with other members of your team good things for everyone, individually and collectively, as stated by Long Beach City College Head Softball Coach Shellie McCall, ďTeam cohesion is the glue that keeps a team focused and determined to reach its goals.Ē

[Adapted from Chapter 3 of Winning the Mental Way, by Karlene Sugarman, M.A. For more information on this book you can contact Step Up Publishing at 650-347-0826, or Karlene directly at]

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