Team Culture in Athletics
Lance Smith explains how to create your team culture in athletics.
Athletics is often, incorrectly, labelled an individual sport. I say incorrectly as all athletics coaches know the team aspect of training and squad activities is important for improving skills and performance.
An issue of the UK coaching newsletter Peak Performance had an article titled "Developing Cohesive Teams in Sport". Think about the points raised. It asks what is team cohesion and answers with an observation from a study done at the University of Ontario that states team cohesion is the degree a group sticks together (a bit obvious, as cohesion is the operative word), remains united in pursuit of common goals and the degree to which it meets the social needs of its members.
A team must have the same goals and work together to achieve them, but I'm most interested in the third factor – social needs. Isn't fun and enjoyment the prime reason why we participate in sport? That is a social need. Being with friends or others of similar interest and motivation is a social need.
As coaches, do we put enough emphasis on social needs as opposed to the team's (and yours) need to achieve?
Does your planning include the social aspect? Is training a serious business or something everyone wants to be at because they enjoy the occasion and company as well as the sport?
The Ontario study showed the obvious – team cohesion has a significant effect on sporting performance. And it concluded that social cohesion is more important than task cohesion (that is skills, game performance, etc.).
Athletics is a team sport
A training squad or club group is a team - a team that interacts with each other, has social cohesion and most importantly, supports and encourages each other. They are at training as much for the social aspects as for the task or sport aspects.
The article also suggests establishing what they call a 'pod' system – teams within a team. A full squad may have too many dynamics to fully show cohesion or have differing attitudes within the group, for example, backs and forwards, defenders and strikers, batsmen and bowlers.
So the suggestion is having small groups working together and all the groups combining as a team. An example of this in action would be goal setting for a pod on top of goal setting for the team. This in effect occurs with many training squads with the jumpers and sprinters a pod, the distance runners a pod but all take pride in being part of the squad, the team. Or the younger ones a pod and the performance athletes a pod, with both supporting each other.
When you have a national champion running with and encouraging and motivating a brand new squad member, well, it makes the task of the coach a lot easier and reinforces the social cohesion of the squad.
In summary – when your squad, club or pod wants to be at training because it is fun (social cohesion) the individuals will improve their task cohesion (be better athletes).
The final word on athletics as a team sport – a personal philosophy: athlete and coach is a team – and the athlete is the team captain.
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About the Author
Lance Smith is a practising coach with Athletics Southland in New Zealand with coaching qualifications in sprints, track endurance, road and cross country, steeplechase and high jump and has coached athletes to national championship medals in all the above events. He is also an active "master" athlete and takes part in track events and jumps.