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Developing team cohesion

Developing cohesion within a team has been indicated to require conscious planning and intervention to create positive results (Kleinert et al., 2012). A variety of factors can influence the group cohesiveness and strategies to enhance these factors may be described in a sport-specific context.

The concept of distinctiveness refers to the perception of the team or group as unique, set-apart, or special when compared with other teams or groups (Janssen, 1999). Carron and Spink (1993) identified several possible intervention strategies that can be used in an exercise group setting. In the context of a soccer team, the creation of practice jerseys is an appropriate strategy. Involvement of the team to select the colors, layouts, and any team mottos or sayings creates the opportunity to develop relatedness in the group.

The notion of individual positions refers to the structure of the team and the roles within the structure. Individual positions are distinct from the tactical positioning of players in the game and their roles, although there can be a strong relationship. For example, on many teams, the stronger field players have a higher rank in the team structure than squad players. Conflicts in the definition or acceptance of individual positions within the team can result in the formation of cliques, leading to negative competition within the group (Janssen, 1999). The assignment of jobs to groups of players is a method to develop individual positions. Examples might include leading the warmup, pickup, and retrieval of equipment at training sessions, and organizing and cleanup of the bench area before and after games. Assigning a “chore list” is a method of defining positions within the group and developing internal accountability.

Norms are defined as a “level of performance, pattern of behavior, or belief” (Weinberg & Gould, 2014, p. 160). Norms can develop organically within the group or result as the consequence of coaching interventions or peer pressure. In an ideal situation, the norms represent positive behaviors that create an environment suited for the achievement of personal and team goals. A strategy for the development of group norms involves a series of meetings involving the team leaders (captains) and the team as a whole. At an initial meeting with the coaching staff, a general framework for a team-wide meeting is discussed with objectives, desired outcomes, and tactics. The framework should identify relevant components such as effort, relationships, respect, and communication. At the team meeting, with the framework in hand, the captains (with the assistance of the coaching staff) can collaborate with the team to develop a listing of the norms. Often, the norms are identified during the “forming” phase of team development (Tuckman & Jensen, 1977). Putting the norms in writing can facilitate the transition of the group through the “storming” phase.

Individual sacrifices have been identified as a predictor of the level of cohesion within a team (Weinberg & Gould, 2014). A willingness to sacrifice one’s interests represents a high degree of commitment to the team, its members, and its success. In some individuals, a willingness to self-sacrifice may be ingrained through family or other environmental mechanisms. In an elite team structure, players may carry high degrees of ego. Ferguson suggested that the presence of large egos is not a problem if the individuals are persuaded that subjugating their ego results in victories: “Superstars with egos are not the problem some people may think. They need to be winners because that massages their egos, so they will do what it takes to win” (Elbere, 2013, p. 121). A strategy for developing an environment of sacrifice involves both communication of goals to individuals and team and consequent modeling by the team leaders. As implied by Ferguson, players need to believe that their sacrifice will have positive outcomes. Discussion with individual players on their roles and the potential positive outcomes is part salesmanship and part transactional. A team-wide conversation provides context for the players on how their sacrifice fits within the larger team goals. For a culture of self-sacrifice to endure, players need to see the team leaders model the desired behavior. Meeting with the captains as part of a “norms” conversation can include a discussion on how sacrifice fits into the team’s culture and their roles in encouraging their teammates.

Development of interaction and communication is a prerequisite to positive social cohesion. Janssen (1999) provided some suggestions for implementing interactions. Many of these ideas revolve around breaking the team into smaller groups to perform an activity. Ideally, a strategy will involve several different activities during a seasonal year with a shuffling of players in groups to provide a maximal interaction of players with teammates. Examples of activities include a team scavenger hunt, “bus buddies” (players exchange snacks during transportation to an away game), team holiday parties with “Secret Santas,” snap jars (Platt & Luketic, 2001), and team games such as “Two Truths, One Lie.”

The development of team cohesion is a complex problem. Identification of strategies associated with factors and a multitasking approach can create the necessary elements to positive team cohesion.


Carron, A. V., & Spink, K. S. (1993). Team building in an exercise setting. The Sport Psychologist, 7(1), 8-18.

Elberse, A. (2013). Ferguson’s formula. Harvard Business Review, 91(10), 116-125.

Kleinert, J., Ohlert, J., Carron, B., Eys, M., Feltz, D., Harwood, C., … & Sulprizio, M. (2012). Group dynamics in sports: an overview and recommendations on diagnostic and intervention. The Sport Psychologist, 26(3), 412-434.

Janssen, J. (1999). Championship team building: What every coach needs to know to build a motivated, committed & cohesive team. Winning the mental game.

Platt, M. (Producer) & Luketic, R. (Director). (2001). Legally Blonde [Motion Picture]. United States: MGM.

Tuckman, B. W., & Jensen, M. A. C. (1977). Stages of small-group development revisited. Group & Organization Studies, 2(4), 419-427.

Weinberg, R. S., & Gould, D. (2014). Foundations of Sport and Exercise Psychology 6th Edition. Human Kinetics.