Teamwork In Sports: Why It’s So Important

Written by VersusThu Dec 08 2022
Teamwork In Sports: Why It’s So Important

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The importance of team building in influencing positive outcomes for sports teams is a vital component. When it comes to team building, though, one of the primary variables that are believed to be critical to success is the perception of the team's overall cohesiveness.

The importance of team building in influencing positive outcomes for sports teams has been known for years by coaches, management, and administrators alike. When it comes to team building, though, one of the primary variables that are believed to be critical to success is the perception of the team's overall cohesiveness. 

In recent years various studies have examined team building and team-building exercises – specifically whether or not they play a critical role in success. Many studies have highlighted athlete perception and other factors, including adherence, satisfaction, and team success, playing critical roles in boosting team morale and building teamwork and cooperation. 

While identifying these components is important, two critical questions first need to be answered:

  • Can the behavior of individual athletes be changed? 
  • If so, how can it be changed?

Team building is one of the most well-known and commonly practiced interventions popular amongst many sports organizations. Team building can mean different things to different people, and even studies vary significantly in how they define team building. Generally, however, team building refers to utilizing exercises that improve team dynamics and ultimately aim to allow the team to function better or more effectively.

For years now, sports organizations have been using team building to target various key performance factors that help improve the team's success. For many, the process of building a cohesive team operates in order like this:

  • Focus on team building
  • A boost in the team's cohesiveness and finally 
  • An overall improvement in team functionality and effectiveness

Researchers, however, tend to focus their questions on keeping athletes on the "straight and narrow" when it comes to sticking to their processes and tasks. In this instance, the flow looks something like this:

  • Focus on team building
  • Boost in cohesiveness
  • Maintenance of the team as a whole and then
  • Individual athletes

What is clear is the stereotypical image of team building, like going to the movies or having a BBQ, has changed dramatically. Although still meaningful, team-building now goes far beyond these rather rudimentary activities. 

The Role Of Team Building in Sports

In this section, let’s take a look at some research on team building that resulted in four distinct types of team building methodologies:

  • Interpersonal relationships amongst team members
  • The importance of setting goals
  • Adventure and 
  • Omnibus

Interpersonal Relationships

Interpersonal relationships concentrate solely on developing and strengthening the relationships within the team with the hope that it leads to a group that is not only cohesive but functions more effectively. This is one of the best strategies to help teams with low morale and/or poor personal relationships amongst team members. 

Goal Setting

Goal setting is the second most practiced team-building framework that sporting organizations often utilize. The objective is actually quite simple; one, to devise goals for the team and individuals, and two, to identify the actions needed to achieve those goals. Many organizations need guidance in setting goals partly because they have not been specified but also because players and staff may disagree with the goals themselves. 


The adventure framework is a favorite way to help teams build stronger relationships because it involves fun outdoor activities such as rope courses and cross-training. The goal is similar to that of the interpersonal framework in that it hopes to improve team cohesiveness and boosts morale. 

Generally, the activities revolve around players having to work together to solve certain problems. Adventure activities can be performed over a day or even an extended stay-away.


Lastly, the least used of the four team-building methods is the "omnibus-framework." Here the goal is to improve team morale and cohesiveness by creating strategies and team-building protocols like pinpointing the individuality of team dynamics. This might include emphasizing the sacrifices that athletes and coaches make or celebrating the uniqueness of each individual within the team.

Delivering Team Building Programs

When you take an in-depth look at team-building activities and protocols, it's clear that they can be delivered to teams or sports organizations as a whole, both directly and indirectly. 

In-direct Approach to Team Building 

The indirect approach is used in sports to develop team-building via an athletic leader such as a coach or a team captain. Generally speaking, sports organizations hire team-building specialists to help implement and deliver the programs and activities to the team's leader. 

While the indirect style of team building is popular amongst sports teams more often than not, the "direct" approach is preferred. The direct method provides much more clarity and learning because it is directly presented to the players.

Direct Approach to Team Building

As the name suggests, the direct approach to team building means that the expert team-builder works directly with each and every member of the team. The direct method is favored because it provides the athletes and coaches with a greater understanding of the principles behind successful team building, 

The direct technique is thought to boost the intrinsic motivation of athletes and players by increasing their confidence in their ability to stick with things through times of adversity. Whether you choose the "indirect" or "direct" method, team building should be the main focus of any organization looking to reach peak performance.

The Harmful Practice of Hazing

Although hazing has been seen as "fun" or "harmless," it can have devastating effects on the person targeted. Simply put, hazing is a form of harassment and in some cases, abuse which is designed to do nothing more than embarrass or humiliate a player. 

Old-school coaches may argue tell that hazing builds character in players and strengthens their resolve, but not only is there no evidence to support this, but most view it as false. 

In fact, those teams that continue to use hazing have reported less cohesiveness, poor teamwork, and lower performance levels, overall.  

The Benefits Of Team Building in Sports

Head coaches and sports organizations should encourage and provide the opportunity for their athletes and coaching staff to participate in team-building activities. Team building significantly enhances the cohesiveness of the team and, for many staff members and players, can be an incredibly empowering experience.

However, some players and staff can react negatively when faced with team-building activities partly due to their personality markers and if team dynamics are out of whack. Seeking the services and guidance of a team-building specialist can help organizations side-step the pitfalls generated by poorly delivered programs. 

At the end of the day, though, team-building activities can aid in improving communication and teamwork, boost motivation and provide players and staff with the feeling they're part of something bigger and much more meaningful.

Boost Effective Team Communication

It goes without saying that one of the most important aspects in the pursuit of peak sports performance is the ability of team members to communicate effectively. As a Head Coach, you are responsible for promoting and encouraging team-building activities to not only help set practical expectations but also nurture positive behaviors and habits.

It's no secret that when team members can talk and communicate freely and without fear of judgment, the clubhouse is generally a much happier and more positive place to be around. Providing an environment with open lines of communication gives your players peace of mind knowing that they can come to you with problems they may be facing on or off the field.

Players thrive knowing they're not being judged and always have someone they can rely on. 

Simply put, if you want to improve teamwork and cohesiveness, then start with team-building exercises today.

Boost Team and Individual Motivation

Motivation can come from many different origins, both internally and extrinsically. In my experience, one of the most common sources of motivation is provided by supportive teammates and staff who rally around teammates struggling with poor in-game performances or slumps.

Team-building activities are a terrific way to help players and coaching staff redirect their attention to what's truly important.

Athletes that are task-focused tend to be internally motivated and are much more likely to stick to the task, especially during times of adversity. Extrinsically-motivated athletes need the support of their coaches and teammates to help them reach their full potential. Team building goes a long way to helping extrinsically motivated athletes understand their teammates' importance in keeping them motivated and performing at their peak levels. 

Boost Team Productivity and Cohesiveness

Team-building exercises offer an excellent way to develop cohesiveness and create a positive environment that helps athletes, teams, coaches, and organizations reach their peak performance. Teams with a poor cohesive unit generally have a low player and coach retention rate along with less than desirable performance and results.

Team building activities help boost productivity and celebrate and recognize the unique contribution that each athlete and team member brings to the table. Teams with high levels of cohesiveness also tend to display an enthusiastic commitment to a unified goal and are much more optimistic on and off the field.

Teams that are less talented but are as "happy as Larry" are generally much more successful than those teams who are "jam-packed" with talent but display poor teamwork, feel the pressure and subsequently experience low morale. 

Team-Building Activities For Teams

Whether you're at an amateur level or competing at the highest levels of professional sports, the one factor that contributes to your overall success is ensuring the entire organization is working towards the same goal. Teamwork, cohesiveness, enthusiasm, and supreme confidence are also critical links in the chain of success.

Building Stronger Relationships

One of the best ways to promote teamwork and cohesion is to organize social get-togethers and events such as barbeques, dinners, and casual meetings. Simple yet effective social meetings can enhance the morale of the team and even give a chance to players who may have disagreements to come together. 

The timing of these gatherings can also positively affect the team and should be scheduled and planned to coincide with a significant game or tournament.

Organizing Charitable Events

Organizing charity events and fund-raising drives are also a fantastic way to boost teamwork and morale within the team. These types of events not only bring the team together but also help the broader community.

For example, the MLB Players Association regularly hosts baseball clinics to provide juniors with increased opportunities and to teach children critical life skills like honesty, responsibility, and dedication that come with playing sport. 

Physical Activities Outside Of Your Sport

An excellent way to build team morale is by organizing activities that fall outside of regular training hours. These activities may include a rope course, paintball, or an obstacle course. Activities like these can improve teamwork, communication, and cohesiveness and improve physical skills like coordination, strength, agility, and speed. 

Sharing Personal Experiences

Last but not least, sharing is a key component of team building. Yes, you read this correctly. When players have more opportunities to talk about their personal challenges, their relationships are greatly enhanced. 

While this practice can feel awkward and uncomfortable for some, others have found it to be one of the best ways to make fundamental changes to how they understand each other.  Talking about personal challenges helps players and coaching staff connect on a much deeper level which generally transfers over to improved on-field performance.

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