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Ideas for Athletes & Coaches Preparing for Real Competition


team cohesion in sport The term cohesiveness has long been associated with the amount of ‘togetherness’ displayed by a team both on and off the field. Team cohesion is commonly defined as a dynamic process that is reflected in the tendency of a group to remain united in the pursuit of its goals and objectives (Carron 1982).

There are two dimensions within cohesion:

  1. A task dimension which reflects a team’s ability to work together to achieve a goal, and
  2. A social dimension which reflects the degree to which team members like each others’ company.

Research conducted by Lenk (1969) found that social cohesion was not an important component in achieving a successful performance in elite rowing, i.e., the rowers do not have to like one another for top performance. Sometimes, that’s just as well!

However, when contemplating the larger majority of active athletes (i.e., the non-elite) social cohesion may well prove to be quite important.

Performance success will facilitate feelings of greater cohesion and satisfaction. Similarly, cohesion itself will also result in a greater sense of satisfaction.

Satisfaction is how an individual feels about their participation in a team. If an individual has a high degree of satisfaction they are more likely to feel good about themselves and their participation and want to continue participating.

If a crew lacks the ability to gain satisfaction substantially through its performance in the short term, cohesion may provide the level of satisfaction required to maintain motivation. Thus, as performance improvements due to training have an opportunity to emerge, this reinforces the positive feelings gained from achievement.

Over time, encouraging participation at novice levels will increase both the size and standard of the pool of athletes from which elite squads are selected. In this light the development of social cohesion at a non-elite level may well be extremely important to any sport.

What Makes a Team Cohesive?

A ‘crew concept’ is essential for cohesion to develop and stems from five key issues (Williams 1986):

  1. Proximity: close personal contact between team members that facilitates interaction.
  2. Distinctiveness: team members perceiving themselves as a unit and as different from others outside the crew.
  3. Similarity: team members perceptions of themselves as having similar attitudes , aspirations, commitment and abilities.
  4. Goals and rewards: emphasis is placed on groups performances and rewards rather than individuals of sub-groups.
  5. Team structure: individuals should understand, accept and enthusiastically undertake their role in the team and be aware and conform to team norms (acceptable behaviors).

As the definition of team cohesion states, it is a dynamic process and implicitly therefore is capable of change, growth, modification and improvement.

How to Create Team Cohesion

Coaches can facilitate the development of social cohesion within their teams by:

  • Opening communication channels between themselves and their charges and between team members.
  • Seek input when making decisions and address conflict when it arises.
  • Develop pride and a collective identity by setting realistic goals with the team and gain their commitment by involving them in the process.
  • Develop common expectations of behavior (e.g., arriving on time or early to training).
  • Acknowledge personal contributions by stressing the importance of each individual’s role. This acknowledgment will also enhance the individual’s motivation and commitment.
  • Conduct periodic meetings at which team members can air their grievances and resolve conflict.
  • Use senior members to help implement change where necessary.
  • Discuss the positive aspect of a performance before the negatives.
  • Reinforce distinctiveness by training in a common uniform and interacting socially as well as at training.
  • Avoid early failures where possible.
  • Avoid excess team substitutions.
  • Avoid clique formation (negative alliances) by randomly assigning individuals to groups for off-field training.

In conclusion, team cohesion can be use as a tool by coaches, organizers and PE teachers to maintain participation in sport. The development of cohesion takes on even greater significance if the team has begun a season with poor performance and gains little satisfaction from their results.

If the individual feels a sense of belonging and has committed themselves to team goals, satisfaction will also be gained from the process of combined effort. In turn, this provides a source of satisfaction and the subsequent feelings of worth can provide motivation to carry on. Therefore, social cohesion is important at a non-elite level in order to provide a solid base for elite athletes to develop within.

If you’re interested in learning about formal strategies to develop team cohesion have a look at Developing Team Unity and Leadership.

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Category : Sport-General / Sports Psychology

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