Michael Jordan once said, “Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.” Great coaches know that, while skills, drills, and practice are very important, it truly takes a team that is willing to work together through thick and thin to make a successful season.
With the right steps and strategies in place, athletes’ participation on your team could advance a host of positive character traits that stem from great team morale. You can help the young people learn to deal with frustration and show good sportsmanship whether they win or lose.
You can encourage valuable characteristics such as honesty, fair play, and respect for all. You can even help them with life skills like communication, goal setting, and conflict resolution.
Your team is a sort of a nursery where seeds are planted for perseverance, optimism, and resilience. Promote a culture of harmony and these delicate young seedlings can grow into strong examples that take their positive attitudes into the outside world.
Here are ten awesome tips to build team morale, encourage teamwork, and put your team over the top in ways you’ve never dreamed could happen.
Tips for the Coach
Be a Great Listener
The foundation for teamwork and good morale is good listening. Be sure that you cultivate this trait in yourself and encourage it in your assistants and volunteers. When someone approaches you, especially with a concern, avoid defensiveness and listen with an open mind. Respond thoughtfully instead of emotionally.
Use Positive Language
Your words are powerful! Make sure that you are building team members and adults up instead of tearing anyone down. When you do need to offer correction or criticism, try making a “compliment sandwich”: Start by praising something praiseworthy, insert a gentle criticism or correction, and then end the conversation on a positive note. People tend to focus most on the first and last things they have heard, so you will be more likely to leave the athlete feeling positive with this strategy.
Everyone feels more empowered and like a valued group member if they have a say in some of the decision-making. Every team has aspects that can become group decisions, and most don’t even affect practice activities or game strategies. For example, players can help develop team rules of conduct, help choose restaurants for outings, or hotels for overnight stays. Sometimes they can choose the order of activities for a part of practice, or be allotted some free time where they decide what drills to use from a limited number of choices. The more you can involve the athletes in the decision-making process, the higher morale will be.
Everyone likes to feel needed and appreciated. Make it a point to publically appreciate each athlete, staff member and volunteer regularly. This can be as simple as a personal phone call or note from time to time, or making sure that everyone gets recognized at the annual awards banquet. Just don’t wait until the end of the season to show how much they all mean to the team.
Tips to Create Positive Culture
Teach Team Responsibility
Teams that understand that everyone plays a role in success and failure alike are also teams that know how to work together. Be obvious and explain how each team member contributed to the win, and how each team member might have helped cause another to make a mistake. The team wins together and loses together, so do not allow any one person to be given credit or blame.
Set Realistic Goals
Every team wants to win, and win big, but that’s not enough of a goal to build morale and improve teamwork. Be more specific with the athletes, setting team goals for matters such as number of drills performed at practice, number of sprints or laps the team can do collectively, and so forth. It’s also important to set clear player development goals. Help each player (in private) to claim a goal to improve during the season, and check in regularly to see how that goal is progressing. Help the team to set goals about working together, including all players and giving them a chance to develop, and so forth, and help them to note their progress.
Encourage Positive Thinking
Language makes a huge difference. Encourage athletes, volunteers, and parents to be conscious of keeping a positive tone when speaking of games, practices, the team and anything related. Focus on the positive when you speak, and help those around you to do the same at all times. Positive thinking will follow once positive speaking is ingrained as a habit.
Tips to Keep Athletes Engaged
Make It Fun
It should go without saying, but athletes that are having fun at practices and games will maintain a positive attitude much more easily when the going gets tough. It is important to put a sense of fun into nearly every meeting with the team. Use humor, tell jokes, and have a good time together. Be careful about teasing, though, since that form of humor can quickly backfire. You can also add game-like activities to practices, and build in opportunities for free play with the skills that you are teaching or honing. Help everyone have a great time whenever the team is working together, and morale is likely to stay high and teamwork likely to become a priority.
Be Generous with Praise
Everyone craves positive attention, and athletes (and parent volunteers) are no different. Be sure to find something to praise as often as you can, and preferably sometime during each practice and game. Don’t forget that praise has a verbal and a physical dimension, as well. Saying “Great job!” accesses one level of praise, and ruffling a kid’s hair or gently touching a shoulder accesses another. Be sure to understand each person’s preferences. Some people love the loud and long praises, rounds of applause, and other overt kudos. Others will prefer a meaningful look and a smile, a thumbs-up, or a high-five. Match the form of the praise with the recipient’s preferences, and you will have a powerful tool to foster teamwork and morale.
Plan Some Team Building Activities
It sounds a bit off-topic, but most teams can benefit from team-building exercises outside of practices and games. Team-building exercises are activities that encourage or even force teammates to work together to solve a problem or accomplish a goal. Since your group has already come together over physical activities, try some physical team building activities, such as tug-o-war or relay races. Change things up a bit with some mental team-building exercises, such as solving puzzles or meeting thinking challenges.