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6 factors that get in the way of good teamwork

6 factors that get in the way of good teamwork in sports

6 min read
  • Sport psychology

The best sports teams in the world are made up of the best players, each with the best skills and abilities that most athletes can only dream of acquiring. Unfortunately, it isn’t enough for each team member to be great individually – they need to be able to bring all of their strengths together and work as one cohesive unit in order to be successful.

At InnerDrive, we’ve been looking at a rather interesting paper that explains how teamwork execution can break down. Here are 6 of the factors they highlight, helping to uncover why a team of top athletes can ultimately fail to achieve their goals – and to figure out how to avoid this for your own team…

1. Ineffective team preparation

There’s a famous quote by Benjamin Franklin that goes: “fail to prepare, prepare to fail.” This couldn’t be more true in the world of sport. There are two key times when it comes to preparation, and both have crucial potential pitfalls…

Preparation during training

Sport is unpredictable. The best way to prepare for this uncertainty is to vary the types of practice and drills athletes use.

A good way to train is for athletes to conduct practice matches amongst themselves, because this is going to best mimic what they will experience in a real game. If you use the same scripted practice drills over and over again, athletes won’t get used to thinking on their feet, which is something they will have to do a lot throughout matches.

Preparation during the pre-competition warm-up

A lot of the time, athletes like to keep to themselves during the warm-up to “get in the zone.” However, this time just before the match is a good opportunity to go over any game plans discussed leading up to the big day.

Remind your athletes that communication is key, and that they should make use of the time just before the match to clear up any misunderstandings about the game plan.

2. Ineffective team monitoring

In order to keep a team on track, they need to make sure they can manage any rising conflict amongst them. They also need good problem-solving strategies for when things go wrong.

Conflict management

As soon as arguments break out, team cohesion will diminish. Athletes have been known to close themselves off and reduce communication after conflict with other team members, making it difficult to work cohesively on the pitch.

Having breaks during training and game play provides good opportunities for teammates to discuss their concerns with one another, helping them to move forward and work together again.

Problem solving

Reflecting on things that went wrong in the match isn’t enough to fix anything – athletes need to identify how they can improve during their next performance.

The half-time period is a great time for players to discuss how they can improve in the next half of the game. The players should feel they are in a psychologically safe environment, meaning they feel able to voice their concerns to their team without fear of backlash or embarrassment.

If athletes don’t feel able to speak up about what is wrong, these issues won’t be addressed, and the same mistakes will continue to happen.

3. Changes to the roster

When new players join the team, it can be difficult for the athletes to “gel” because they won’t be used to everyone’s style of play.

When the athletes don’t know each other well, it’s only natural that they won’t communicate well –they won’t feel as comfortable talking and shouting at each other from across the pitch. Without this communication, they can’t possibly perform well as a group.

There could also be a change in self-efficacy levels. The players probably won’t feel as confident in their new team if they were used to winning previously with another group of people. With low self-efficacy, athletes become more reserved and less willing to take risks, and their performance declines as a result.

These changes to the roster can even happen during the middle of matches. Players are often substituted later on in the game, which can easily disrupt momentum, not to mention the partnerships and strategies that were already established between players.

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4. Unhelpful leadership

When it comes to leadership, athletes look to coaches to help them achieve success. Coaches have the power to facilitate teamwork, even just through their emotions.

A coach’s emotions are often contagious to players – so, if a coach is feeling negative, the players will too. These negative emotions will then be carried into matches, making players feel defeated before they’ve even set foot on the pitch.

To ensure they get the best out of their team, a coach should be calm, supportive and positive towards their athletes. The athletes also shouldn’t feel scared to make mistakes around their coach, because this is when team cohesion begins to break down. Athletes become too focused on not slipping up and don’t concentrate on working together, so performance starts to go downhill.

5. Poor unity among team members

It seems pretty intuitive that for a team to be successful, they need to work together in unity. When are team are not united, it could be down to two factors:

Differences in objectives

Some team members can end up playing as individuals rather than as a group. This can happen when the athletes don’t agree on one common objective and start working individually in an attempt to achieve what they think is the most important goal.

This massively disrupts team cohesion because the athletes don’t work as one entity, and instead work as separate beings. Athletes should ensure they establish and agree on one objective before the game starts, to make sure they’re all on the same page.

Clique formation

Members of the team are bound to get on better with some than with others. However, having cliques in a team can make it divided. When this happens, it can cause athletes to communicate less or negatively with those who are not in their clique, making their game play less efficient.

Social outings are a good way to get the team more comfortable with each other, which then translates into them feeling comfortable around each other on the pitch. It’s important for the team to build strong connections with each other in order to be cohesive.

6. Problematic levels of confidence

Low levels of self confidence in athletes could diminish teamwork because it can cause players to start doubting themselves. This then makes the athletes play more tentatively, and they can start to engage in avoidance behaviours such as communicating less and not taking risks.

Teamwork can also be affected if athletes don’t have confidence in each other. For example, if this happens in a football team, players will be less likely to pass the ball to those they don’t have confidence in. In this way, it would be like competing with one less player.

Problems also arise when players are over-confident. Those who feel like this might not see the need to work as a team, because they may think that they can carry the team to victory on their own. This is never the case, and players should always value the other members of their team as equals to themselves.

Final thoughts

Being able to work as a team is arguably one of the most important contributors to team success. By making coaches and athletes aware of these six factors that can get in the way of good teamwork, we hope to see teams thriving as one united group.

About the editor

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch is a Chartered Psychologist and a leading expert on illuminating Cognitive Science research in education. As Director at InnerDrive, his work focuses on translating complex psychological research in a way that is accessible and helpful. He has delivered thousands of workshops for educators and students, helping improve how they think, learn and perform. Bradley is also a prolific writer: he co-authored four books including Teaching & Learning Illuminated and The Science of Learning, as well as regularly featuring in publications such as The Guardian and The Telegraph.

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