Mind Over Sports

PHIL JACKSON: “TEAM BONDING AND TEAM CHEMISTRY”

Posted on: June 20, 2013

I’ve been reading NBA coach Phil Jackson’s most recent book, “Eleven Rings,” and in it he makes the following observation:

“Basketball is a great mystery. You can do everything right. You can have the perfect mix of talent and the best system of offense in the game. You can devise a foolproof defensive strategy and prepare your players for every kind of eventuality. But if the players don’t have a sense of oneness as a group, your efforts won’t pay off. And the bond that unites a team can be so fragile, so elusive.”

Now coach Jackson knows a heck of a lot more about basketball than I’ll ever know but it’s possible I might have a leg up on him when it comes to team chemistry and team bonding. I don’t find team chemistry and team bonding elusive at all. In fact, it can be achieved quite simply. All a coach has to do is lock players in a room for an approximate 4-hour session, with a facilitator (not to be a coach) with every player (including the facilitator) signing a “ground rules” form that guarantees complete confidentiality. That is, whatever takes place in the room stays in the room. Then, everyone sits in a chair in a circle with no one present in the room who can bench them or, even worse, remove them from the team (and that includes all coaches) so that there will be total and complete honesty among players.

The first step is to have everyone go around the room telling a little about their personal lives and any problems or issues they may be having and these issues and problems can be strictly personal or team-related or even coach-related. Primarily, these are issues and problems they have been withholding (bottling-up inside themselves.) After the first hour or so when they begin to feel comfortable and begin trusting their teammates and the facilitator, they will then begin to open up and be more honest regarding what is going on in their minds and their hearts and what they may have been withholding and bottling-up. They are especially eager to do this once they realize that if they open their hearts and minds (and their problems) to their teammates, often making themselves vulnerable in the process, sometimes producing tears of emotion, they will begin to feel better about themselves and will begin performing at a higher skill level. Helping their teammates with their personal problems, and helping their teammates figure out a way to solve their problems, makes players feel better about themselves and enhances their performance on the court. This emotional interaction soon creates a strong bonding among team members and enhances team chemistry.

And the next and final stage is where everyone is in the locker room (including coaches) and all are holding hands and standing in a circle with the lights dimmed and with special music playing in the background with meaningful lyrics. This is when group visualization begins. Every team member visualizes himself or herself performing at peak performance during the upcoming game.

And there’s an easy way to tell if, in fact, the team bonded; and that is by checking each player’s eye contact. Good eye contact means the player participated in the session and feels good about himself or herself and is bonded with teammates and also feels a part of good team chemistry. However, a player who does not have good eye-contact after the session more than likely wasn’t honest during the session and refused, for whatever reason, to share his or her personal and emotional issues with teammates.

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