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Rethinking the Way Coaches Implement Team Building Activities During COVID-19

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Coaching during a pandemic can have many challenges. One example that coaches have most likely experienced during COVID-19 is the opportunity to build team cohesion. With COVID-19 hindering the implementation of in-person team building activities (TBA’s), is there a way to foster team cohesion without all team members being in the same physical location? Now is the time to get creative with how to implement TBA’s and reconsider approaches to building cohesive team environments. 

Common TBA’s, such as in-person team dinners and movie nights, may no longer be a feasible option; however, it is still imperative to build team cohesion as research has demonstrated there is a moderate to strong relationship between cohesion and performance (Filho et al., 2014). Previous literature has also shown that the following factors influence cohesion and performance: task, context, relationships, roles, team norms, personal characteristics, team characteristics, goals, communication, cooperation, coordination, and leadership (Collins & Durand-Bush, 2015). Thus, it is important for TBA’s to target these factors in order to maximize the effectiveness of these activities in improving team cohesion and performance.

To expand on previous literature, a pilot study seeking to understand athletes’ and coaches’ perceptions of team dynamics in regard to what methods are most successful in building team cohesion, coaches and athletes identified the following as variables that are facilitative of effective team cohesion:

  • Communicating effectively as a team
  • Role clarity and acceptance of their role on the team
  • Committing to specific team goals 
  • Adopting a mentality that prioritizes team achievements over individual accomplishments

While the coaches in the study identified team dinners, team sleepovers, beach trips, high rope courses, and holiday parties as common strategies to build cohesion, these social functions may not directly improve the factors listed above. For example, if effective communication is a goal that you have set for your team for the season, but a movie night is an activity that is chosen as the TBA (an activity that requires very minimal interaction between teammates), then there is a disconnect between the activity and the factor that you value as important to developing an effective team dynamic. Therefore, it is important for TBA’s to be continued virtually, given the limitations due to COVID-19, and that target the factors identified above.

Suggestions for Team Building Activities

Below, we provide coaches with examples of how to implement TBA’s that directly target the factors listed above and how to continue the traditional TBA’s virtually:

  • Goal Setting Sessions
  • Communication Practice
    • A common barrier to a positive team environment is conflict, often due to differing personalities within a team. Communication sessions that target active listening, effective confrontation strategies, and understanding the importance of non-verbal communication, may be helpful in mitigating and preventing team conflict. Click here for a resource for virtual team building activities that focus on improving team communication. In addition, it is important for coaches to remind their team to turn on their camera and their microphone so they can all engage in the discussion. By everyone turning on their camera, non-verbal communication can be assessed and used as part of the session.
  • Role Clarity and Acceptance
    • Coaches can virtually set up individual sessions with their athletes to clarify each player's role(s) within the team so that role ambiguity and confusion are avoided. At the conclusion of the individual sessions, a team session can be held to educate the team, as a whole, on the importance of role clarity and acceptance. This can help teammates understand how their role affects and is affected by others, ultimately with the hope of the athletes learning how to better support their teammates. Click here for a resource that explains the importance of role clarity and acceptance.
  • Team Dinners via Video Call
    • Even though you might be unable to meet up as a team at someone’s house or at your favorite restaurant, having a team dinner via video call can be a great way to spend time getting to know each other. 
  • Book Club
    • Choosing a book to read as a team and setting up regular book club meetings can allow for athletes and coaches to express their thoughts on a certain topic, which can be a fun way of getting to know your team. If the book is sport-related or pertains to a particular mental skill, then the team can discuss how they can translate lessons from the book to their sport. Click here for sport-related book suggestions. 
  • Virtual Game Nights
    • There are many different apps and websites that provide games that can be played virtually. Setting up a video call with your team and playing games or answering trivia together can be great for getting competitive with your team and building cohesion outside of your sport. 

These suggestions serve as a guide on how to navigate building team cohesion in this unprecedented time, and how to improve the traditional TBA’s to be more effective by actually targeting factors that influence cohesion. Although COVID-19 has changed the way that we interact with others, it should not stop sports teams from connecting and working toward building a cohesive unit.
 
References 

Collins, J., & Durand-Bush, N. (2015). Frameworks of team processes in sport: A critical review with implications for practitioners. International Journal of Human Movement and Sports Sciences, 3(3), 46-49. 

Filho, E., Dobersek, U., Gershgoren, L., Becker, B., & Tenenbaum, G. (2014). The cohesion-performance relationship in sport: A 10-year retrospective meta-analysis. Sport Sciences for Health, 10, 165–177.

photo of Samantha Holder

By Samantha Holder

Samantha is a second-year master’s student in the Sport and Exercise Psychology Program at Georgia Southern University. Upon completion of the program, she plans on continuing her training and education in the field by pursuing CMPC® certification and a PhD. Her research interests include the psychology of sport injury, coach-athlete relationship, transition out of sport, and team dynamics.

photo of Carolena Charalambous

By Carolena Charalambous

Carolena is a second-year master’s student in the Sport and Exercise Psychology Program at Georgia Southern University. Upon completion of the program in Spring 2021, she plans on continuing her training and education in the field by pursuing a CMPC® certification, as well as a PhD. Her current research interests include team dynamics, perfectionism, and the role of athlete activism in sports.

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