In the Importance section we discussed to what degree social and task cohesion rely on each other. It became clear that teams who cannot play together on the field (task cohesion) have no chance of succeeding against unified teams of similar ability levels. Also, although it is possible for teams who are not friends off the field (social cohesion) to come together and win as a team, it is a rare occurrence – especially in the youth game. As a coach, you are not expected to spend your life trying to make all your players like each other at school and home. But at practice there are a few approaches you can try that will improve your team’s task cohesion, and hopefully bring them together as friends.
An approach often used for fractured teams is to find a goal or purpose that everyone can support. In the professional game, the most common cause is what we call the ‘siege mentality’ where the coach tells the players that the whole world is against them and they are going to have to work together to survive. Jose Mourinho (Real Madrid, Inter Milan, Chelsea, Porto) loves to use this tool. He will tell anyone who will listen that the rest of the teams in the league, the referees, and the media all hate his team. Partly this is to deflect attention and pressure away from his players and on to him, but partly it is to show the players that they only have each other to rely on.
“The ‘bollocks-to-’em’ philosophy worked again. When things seemed against us I told the players that it was us versus the world.” (Brian Clough)
One problem with this approach is that it can be emotionally draining for everyone involved, which can take the enjoyment out of soccer. It can also develop fear and lower individual confidence. In some cases you are inventing a situation which is not really true, which goes against the goal of remaining credible and honest with your players.
A more effective approach might be to have the team come together to set the goals and objectives. As with most forms of teaching, when players feel like they are involved in making the decisions, they will buy into it much more. Your job though is to make sure that everyone is contributing, not just the leaders. We recommend having a meeting right after tryouts, with a white board and paper and pens for all the players. Ask them what their dream goals are for the season, their realistic goals, and their bare-minimum goals are. Put everyone’s individual answers on the board and come up with unified goals from all of the suggestions. Next ask what we all need to do to achieve any of these goals. Let the players set the targets for fitness, focus at practice, teamwork and so on. Afterwards, you can send the a copy of the team contract that you all created, and help them to stick to it throughout the season.
For more information on creating team goals, setting rules for working together, and to better explain social and task cohesion, we strongly recommend reading Soccer the Mind Game by Steve Bull and Chris Shambrook. Chapter 6 covers everything we have talked about here in much greater detail, and provides templates for meetings.
Once you have set the team goals, you need to constantly monitor the situation. At practices you should be aware of how the players are working together on and off the field; whether they are talking to each other, getting frustrated, going in especially hard on tackles etc. At moments where the situation is deteriorating it is good to have a teambuilding activity that you can quickly switch to, to help players realign with the goals you are all working towards. Our activity archive in this section includes a wide range of quick and easy games to use in situations just like this. Books like 101 Teambuilding Activities by Greg Dale and Scott Conant can also give you more ideas.
Finally, there might be times that a group activity outside of soccer could help build your team cohesion. Whether this is as simple as a team dinner or going bowling, or as complex as a day at a ropes course is up to you to gauge. Keep in mind the commitment and cost level the various activities entail, and set realistic goals to achieve from them. In the archive we have a section on external activities around the state that we have tried with varying degrees of success. Feel free to read our reviews or to add your own from things you have tried.