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by Karlene (Sugarman) Pick, M.A.

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 one's 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 its' potential. Shouldn't teams spend time and energy developing a cohesive environment? I think the problem is that many teams aren't sure what cohesion is and how to go about developing and maintaining a cohesive environment. To often the unspoken attitude is, "If it happens, that's great, but if not, well, we don't have a close group this year and there's 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 doesn't 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. What's 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 isn't 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 player's 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.

[Adapted from Chapter 3 of Winning the Mental Way, by Karlene Sugarman—for more information please contact Karlene at].

Karlene is a Mental Training Consultant and works with athletes and teams teaching mental training techniques and team building strategies. She works with athletes in sports such as golf, skating, swimming, tennis, gymnastics, baseball, softball, basketball, volleyball, soccer, and others.

Karlene co-presented at the Association for Applied Sport Psychology (AASP) conference in Salt Lake City, UT (2009) and in Honolulu, HI (2011).

Karlene is an Adjunct Professor in the Sport Psychology Program at John F. Kennedy University.

Karlene is the author of the book, Winning the Mental Way: A practical guide to team building and mental training. She is also a member of the Association of Applied Sport Psychology (AASP).

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