Friday, March 9, 2007

Youth Sports and Team Building

Stop, Think, Reflect...

What, when and where was your best youth sports team experience?

What made it a memorable experience?

What were relationships like with fellow teammates on the field and off the field?

What do you remember about the coach(s)?

How did the coach(s) help you with your skills? How did the coach(s) give you personal support? How did the coach(s) challenge you?

What were the most important things stressed by the coach(s)?

What were the life-long take away learnings from this experience?

Youth Sports and Team Building

Patrick Lencioni, best selling author of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team (Jossey-Bass, 2002), shares a story of his role as coach for an eight-year-old youth soccer team. He and his fellow coach took an unusual approach to drafting players to be on their team. (See Instead of looking at skills, speed, field-awareness, touch and other normal criteria, they decided to look at how the boys treated each other, how hard they tried, how respectful they were to the coach, and how they interacted with their parents!

As a result, Lencioni writes "First, our team is a team. They treat each other well, encourage one another, and seek out collective attention more than individual praise. Second, they're having fun. They don't complain about practices, and they enjoy being together. Third, their parents are having fun. Many of them have approached me and my assistant coach to tell us how pleasantly surprised they are about the positive environment on the team, and how much they enjoy being on the sideline with the other parents." In Lencioni's March 2007 quarterly newsletter, he reports the team ended up with 15 wins, 4 loses and 6 ties!

Competitors have to compete with several people. First, the individual competitor has to compete with him or herself. If a competitor (or coach) does not get "butterflies" before a game, he/she is truly not interested in the game, has no humility or is inhuman! Second, the competitor has to compete with the opposition, a given. Third, the competitor has to compete with the referees, umpires and judges. Referees, umpires and judges will make bad calls (hopefully unintentionally). Play has to rise above this possibility. Finally, the competitor has to compete with the opposing fans. Taunts, hateful remarks, teasing and poor behavior may come from this group. Again, the competitor has to rise above this.

The people a competitor should never have to compete with are friends and family, the coach(s) and team mates. When poor play occurs during the game, it should be these three sources who encourage and challenge the competitor to fail forward - learn from the mistake and become better from it. Coaches who practice an appreciative inquiry approach towards their players get a higher level of play. Appreciative Inquiry (see is recognizing the best in players and valuing the individual. Its about finding our what gives "life" and heightening human potential. Coaches who walk-the-talk and model-the-way, inspire team mates to act likewise to each other.

Successful teams have a culture of trust, respect, compassion, responsibility and a bold-hairy-audacious-goal (BHAG)! Before any team takes the field or court, the coach has to create this culture. It is equally important that parents and fans support this culture on and off the field or court. With a nurturing culture, teams get into that elusive, highly desirable "zone" that makes play smooth, natural, effortless and fun. When a team hits those tough periods, recovery becomes easier and quicker.

Experience Team Building

Objective: To challenge the process, to demonstrate the value of practice, to understand the need to give and receive support, to break assumptions and to stop negative thinking.

You'll need a several catchable items (balls, bean bags, foam objects) and a stop watch. Gather the team in a circle. Explain the rules for this exercise: 1.) Everyone must "catch" the item once except the first person to whom the item will return to in the end. 2.) Say the name of the person to whom the item will be "thrown". 3.) Receiver can not "throw" the item to the person on his/her immediate right or left. 4.) If the item is dropped, restart.

The facilitator hands an item to the person on his/her right and explains the rules. The facilitator steps out of the circle and tells the team to begin. Without telling the team, the facilitator starts the watch. Do not stop the watch until the all the rules have been met. Thus, if the item gets dropped, the team does a restart, but the clock continues. Note the behavior as well as the process for completing the task.

After a successful first round ask for feedback. What worked? What would be done differently? After a a brief discussion, report the time. Ask if the team can follow the same sequence, but complete the same task more quickly without any mistakes. Keep challenging the team's process. Sugggest you have seen teams move the item around even quicker and with two items! Finally, after the team has reached a greater level of success and the energy is running high introduce a third object - a raw egg! (You may want to keep an extra egg or two on hand for drops and restarts!)

Ask the team about their process. How did it feel to get better and faster? How is this like practice? When a team mate messed up the sequence, how did others respond? How is this like what happens on the field or court during a game? What happend when the raw egg was introduced? What does the raw egg remind you of at practice or during a game? When was there encouragement? How important was encouragement? How does encouragement affect play during practice and games? If it took the team a couple of minutes to have success during the first time, but only seconds for success for the final round, would the team have believed they could have accomplished this type of success after just the first time? How does this thinking compare to the upcoming season or during a game when the team is behind?

Suggested Reading

Season of Life: A Football Star, a Boy, a Journey to Manhood by Jeffery Marx (Simon & Schuster, 2004) ISBN-10: 0743269748

Suggested Movies

Goal! "On this team we pass the ball." - See

Beyond the Sidelines: Leadership Lessons with Jim Tressel "Leadership is about building relationships with others." - See

Glory Road "That's what happens when you don't talk to each other!" - See

Hoosiers "Five players on the floor functioning as one single unit: team, team, team - no one more important than the other." - See

Remember the Titans Coach Boone puts hand to his ear, "Will you ever quit?" Team replies, "No! We want some mo', we want some mo', we want some mo'!" - See

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