Team building sometimes gets stuck in the clichés of the game. Very often they sound great in principle, but constraints get in the way. You run out of time, you do not want to sacrifice precious practice time, etc. For the past five seasons, Coach MacKay told me she is not really involved in team building. It is the captains job to determine what and when they will be doing. Her role is merely to step in occasionally and have some sort of team building activity for the next day ready to go. Having said that, Coach MacKay offered six ideas that do not detract from practice and can help the team in a variety of ways.
Lip Sync Battle
Their high school did a lip sync contest, so the basketball team enrolled. Learning to navigate discomfort does not need to be exclusive to basketball. Perhaps there is a talent show, carnival, pep rally, etc. that your school puts on as a fundraiser. The benefits of getting the team involved in such an event is that it lets the entire school community know you support them. If the PTO or the student council put on such an event with the intent of fundraising, having the support of the basketball team demonstrates your team’s appreciation for their efforts too. Coach MacKay said that she even jumped into the act one year while she was pregnant. Players love seeing their coach in spots away from the game. This sort of off-court activity enhances relationships amongst players and coaches.
Tweet Role Player Highlights
The newspaper typically asks for leading scorers after games. The starting players get to look forward to hearing their name called over the microphone before the game. The bench players just grind.
Coaches need to celebrate their grinders. Coach MacKay tries to find highlights of players off the bench. It might be them making a shot or perhaps it is an identity play where they are taking a charge or securing a loose ball. These players are essential to team building. Great teams must have great benches. Bench players want feedback and recognition on their contributions. Show the players that come off the bench that you appreciate their effort and sacrifice publicly.
One caveat here. Many coaches make teaching the psychology and self-discipline of social media a side-gig during the season. It is important for players to be mindful of the time they spend on social media and also the psychological impact it has on them. Remind players that when you post on social media it is to celebrate the team not an individual, but all individuals are worth celebrating at some point.
Play Back Cable TV Interviews
If your players are interviewed by the local reporters or cable stations, listen to what they have to say. Very often, they echo the same message that the coach is trying to convey. For your own sake as a coach listen to these interviews and appreciate that at least one percent of what you’re communicating is getting through!
Make a Positive Reinforcement List
Coach MacKay told me that while she was in college, one of the rituals the team did early in the season involved two lists. List one was about you as a person. List two is about you as a player. A player writes his or her name and then the sheet makes the rounds through all the players.
Every player puts their favorite thing about that player as a person and/or on the court. Once the lists are complete, they stay hung up in the locker room all season long. They serve as a reminder to players to focus on their strengths as players and people. These are especially helpful during the inevitable dips that happen over the course of a season.
Get Seniors to Share Out
Coach MacKay mentioned a tradition that the Emerson Men’s program employs. After their last game, the seniors talk to every individual on the team and express what that individual means to them. The emotion of the moment gives them the opportunity to reflect on their journey. Additionally, the younger players gain perspective and wisdom that they cannot possibly know given their status as an underclassmen. It helps set the stage for off-season team building and the passing of the torch.
The last game of the season is not easy to digest sometimes. Asking senior players to speak in this manner might be a tall order under that emotional state. Perhaps this idea can also be adapted after a practice toward the end of the season or before or after the senior game.
Generating Interest from the Community
Some of my teams in the past have expressed frustration that more people did not come out to watch them. Coach MacKay flips the equation around. She deliberately builds in times in the schedule for the players to go and watch the swim team, wresting, cheering, hockey, etc. during the season. Once again it is a way to enhance team camaraderie while keeping your practice schedule in order. High school teenagers crave getting out of the house and hanging out in groups.
In a similar way, your team can go to youth basketball games and cheer for those teams. Bring signs, start chants, and encourage them to promote the types of plays which you preach.
As a result of being fans of the other teams in the community, these teams will reciprocate. And the program as a whole benefits when your team gets a little home court advantage in your gym.