Bringing a team together is just as important as teaching the fundamentals of the sport, and more important than winning. Don’t get me wrong, I love to win, but being a top team in your league may be difficult, depending on the players that you have. But if they learn to work together, they will play better. They don’t have to be best friends (although that doesn’t hurt), but if they can learn to care about and respect one another, your team has a better chance of a successful and enjoyable season.
There are many different activities that can help make this happen. The activities can be simple or complicated. They can take a couple of seconds or can last throughout the season. And they can be organized by the coach, a captain, or the team. This article gives you a few places to start, and then use your imagination. The possibilities are endless.
Set the Stage
From the beginning of the season, talk about the importance of team and working together. Have a team theme for the season and let the message infiltrate everything that you say and do. Better Together. Hear us Roar. Girls on Fire. Find something that resonates with you and your players. Use this connection as a starting point when building team activities.
Encourage Positive Communication
Praise your team on their successes and support them when they deal with challenges. Encourage your players to praise one another. Set an expectation that they give each other high-fives and thank you’s on the court or playing field, and that they congratulate one another when they come in and out of games. Expect your bench players to cheer from the sidelines.
Ask your captains to relay messages, suggest they work with the team to put together a pre-game cheer, and organize team activities. Work with them on their leadership skills and they will help to connect their teammates and make a strong team.
As the season goes on, continue to help your players with communication and they will learn to believe in one another. Often you’ll have a few players or groups of players who are already good friends, but it’s important to connect them all, so that they learn to work together as one. Through good and bad, stay positive and believe in the strength of teamwork.
Keep It Simple. Make it Fun
When I was coaching I used a lot of simple activities during practice to bring the players together. It is all about having them get to know one another better. Over the years we did all types of activities. We made our basic drills more competitive, which made practice more fun. Dividing the team into different sized groups or pairs, the players competed against one another to be the group with the most baskets in a specified time or the first group to get 10 points. Players will work together and cheer for one another to win competitions in practice.
We ran relays (even ones that included silly additions, like leapfrog, along with basketball skills) or competed in building puzzles. We would take a few minutes during practice to simply ask players about their favorite animal or color, and used icebreaker activities like 2 Truths and 1 Lie and the Human Knot. We watched inspiring basketball movies and went to sporting events together. We had team dinners and snacked on sweet treats after Saturday morning practices. And on occasion, we ended practices with Knock Out or shooting half court shots, just for fun. There are many easy team building activities that give your players the opportunity to have fun and learn more about one another.
Think outside the box. Think fun. And think about the theme that you set for your season. If Hear us Roar is your theme, create activities and items that support that theme. Every year we introduced journals and made dream boards. We made “I Like You’s” where the players wrote something nice about each of their teammates and then I put the notes together and then handed them out to players before a game. We learned and practiced yoga together, lifted weights, and if possible, I scheduled to have an instructor teach self-defense. We played fun games and had scavenger hunts around the neighborhood. All it takes is a little imagination and you’ll find something fun that your team will love.
The important thing is to set an expectation of togetherness. Work your players hard during practice, and expect them to do the same, but then reward them with fun to bring them together and your season will be a success.