Team chemistry can often trump talent and athleticism in sports. I have seen many talented teams fall short of their goals due to a poor team culture and lack of chemistry through my coaching and playing experiences. Teams can succeed more when teammates get along and respect one another on and off the court. This is why it is critical for coaches to emphasize the importance of team chemistry and exercise strategies that promote and build a positive team culture and atmosphere. Coaches already carry a heavy multitude of administrate duties and responsibilities. However, proper supervision and leadership must also be a priority for coaches as it significantly can impact the development of their team and individual athletes.
Building a positive team culture starts in the locker room. Bullying, hazing, and poor locker room culture are currently hot topics in our society due to the latest incident involving NFL athletes from the Miami Dolphins. In my opinion, there is no place for bullying and hazing at any level of sport and particularly the collegiate and interscholastic levels of sport. It is ultimately the coach’s responsibility to ensure athletes are in a safe and positive environment. The locker room should be a comfortable place for athletes to prepare and recover from practices and games. Athletes commonly socialize in the locker room more than they do during practices and games. This is why it is so important for coaches to set guidelines that promote a positive environment where athletes can enjoy the companionship of their teammates and learn to enjoy each other’s company. This can transform into better productivity on the field or court when players trust each other and are willing to sacrifice for one another with maximum effort and teamwork.
Building a positive team culture is much easier said than done in some situations where athletes may not get along. In other environments, athletes may naturally get along and already have quality team chemistry. Regardless, coaches should practice several strategies that foster an encouraging environment. You never want an athlete to dread entering the locker room or to feel uncomfortable for any reason around their peers. There are a variety of situations which can occur where athletes can tease or ridicule certain teammates or develop jealousy or a dislike for a teammate. Some of the following strategies can be used to combat negative locker issues and promote positive behaviors:
- Always have supervision in the locker room from someone on the coaching staff. Do not allow athletes in the locker room without supervision.
- Address the importance of developing team chemistry and a positive team culture on a regular basis with the team and coaching staff.
- Set specific rules and guidelines for athletes to follow in the locker room; such as displaying courtesy, respect, appreciation, and kindness to one another at all times.
- Challenge captains and/or senior athletes to interact with younger/newer athletes on the team by mentoring them.
- Immediately handle situations where athletes are being mistreated and disrespected by another teammate. Do not tolerate any athlete being disrespected by a teammate.
At the end of the day, coaches are responsible for developing young people to be better athletes and better individuals in society. Getting to know your athletes on an individual basis and modeling the type of culture and behavior you desire and expect in the locker room can make a significant impact on the way athletes will act. Creating a balanced atmosphere where players can mentally and physically prepare for competition in a positive manner as a team is essential.