There is a certain level of complexity involved with team dynamics in any sport as there are many factors such as personalities, cultures, ages and abilities amongst the set of players. In squash, the team aspect is rather unique. Usually, your team consists of 5,7 or 9 players and you set your lineup after try-outs, challenge matches or rankings.
The difference with Squash versus most other sports is that when you enter the court to play for the team, you are still on your own, in the four-walled court with just your opponent. Unfortunately, unlike football, the ability to pass the ball to a teammate when you need an assist or to call a sub when you’re getting a little gassed isn’t an option.
The independent aspect of squash can cause teams to ‘point the finger’ or to ‘pass the blame’ when results don’t go to plan. It’s vital to create a team ethos and feeling of togetherness.
Creating and maintaining a positive working atmosphere for your team will ultimately produce positive results – whether these results be improved team cohesion or on court successes. Your goals can vary from winning a match, a league or the national championships. The creation of team dynamics comes well before the competition itself, which ultimately helps with the success of the team’s ultimate goals.
As the Coach for Greenwich Academy, an all girl’s school in Greenwich Connecticut, it is vital that I show strong leadership. My team is well known to be one of the leading school squash programs in the nation winning 8 out of the last 11 high school national championships. Our girls are rather unique as with the school’s previous successes we are expected to be there or thereabouts at the end of the season.
This position comes with pressure, I have to create the best team and team cohesion possible to relieve as much of that pressure as possible. If I am able to relieve that pressure, my team will have the best chance of being successful in the most pressurized situations. Here are a few things I work on to ensure I lead our team to the best of my ability…
Any team needs a leader whose players can look to for direction and information. In Squash’s case, this is the Coach. The first thing to start with is to create a sense of togetherness. The creation of the line-up is created by result-based statistics. This, on one hand, makes the lineup decision easy for the coach however it’s a complicated line for the girls to approach. They want their personal success however ultimately; they will be fighting for the team. It’s important to generate a positive team dynamic by setting strong guidelines for the team to abide by.
Respect of one and other is vital. At the end of the day, the team is one. No one is bigger than the team, even if you are the team’s best player. The respect they portray can be related to how important it is that the team is on the same wavelength and abides by the Coaches guidelines.
An example of this can be rules regarding attendance to practice, punctuality to practice and rules regarding challenge matches. It is important for the team to know these guidelines so that it doesn’t cause any animosity or friction between team members. As long as they have a mutual respect they will feel the support when they enter the court in the future against the opposing teams.
Clear and concise communication is key and something both coaches and players must excel in when creating a positive team environment. As a coach, you must relay to your team what your visions are and the goals are that you would like them to achieve. It’s important to get all the players on board and to be working together towards the same goal.
Set your goals, understand how you are going to prepare and plan how you are going to accomplish them.
Good communication from all the team members and coaches creates trust and a sense of ‘knowing what’s going on’. Team dinners and social events together also help with building camaraderie away from the intensities of training and competing and this is also important. It can’t be all work and no play for the team. This camaraderie and team morale are linked to productivity, the happier and more confident the player, the better he or she will play. The happier and more together the teams are, the more they will thrive on one and others support throughout any competition.
Not all your players are the same. This is often overlooked as a Coach. You have cultural perspectives, different backgrounds, personality traits and varying views on values. Some individual’s work well under pressure, others don’t. Some respond best to tough talk, others take it personally and shut down. In order to optimize your effectiveness as a leader, you must have the ability to customize your approach on a player-by-player basis, and all players must be valued equally.
Your ability to execute this concept will play a huge role in your goal to get the best work out of your team both on the practice courts and in competition. It’s important to stay calm cool and collected whilst maintaining a direct approach to your players. Players need to feel that they can talk to you about anything. If you can’t help, you can point them in the right direction. If you have the caring attitude for the members on your team, this in time will come naturally.
Preparing well and creating confidence in your team ultimately helps to override any fear of failure. In my previous article, I talked about ‘creating confidence’. As a leader of a team, it is important to create confidence and to eliminate the fear of failure. Self-confidence can be practised through, visualisation techniques and mentally having the knowledge of time spent on the practice courts. I personally believe that a team that shows positivity in their body language, team cohesion and general approach are the ones who perform to their optimum.
Negative body language, facial expressions and friction will hinder any chance of obtaining your team’s ultimate goals. A good example to create confidence is through constantly encouraging and reminding your players about the benefits of positive body language. You can also use a variety of training methods on court to keep up the motivation of the team and to constantly create an exciting environment for them.
INSPIRE AND MOTIVATE
Your players put in the hard yards on the practice courts and churn out rally after rally. It’s your job to provide them with the inspiration and motivation they need to continue providing their optimum performance for the team. Passion for the sport, passion for your players and commitment to the goals will hopefully provide the players with the inspiration they need to keep up their personal drive for the team success.
If you share all these qualities in your leadership, communication, confidence and approach your players will be inspired to succeed together.
All the above aspects will help with creating positive team dynamics, which in turn will help you and your team, obtain the results that everyone was aiming for. As the coach, it’s ultimately important not to get carried away with what you want but understand and think about what the team wants. If these two are in line with one and other and communicated in the correct way, then you are on the right path to success. If you can create the confidence and self-belief in your team, encourage, motivate and appreciate the hard work that they put in, you will find the perfect recipe to getting the best out of your team.
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