When Danie Caro asked me for a submission for Behind the Whistle, I am going to be honest, the only topic that originally came to my mind was, “How to get out of writing something for the blog.” But after delaying my response emails and buying myself more time, I landed on a topic that is near and dear to my heart and hopefully can apply to everyone. TEAM BUILDING – the importance of it and the “lack of time in a day” for it.
I am in my ninth year of coaching (all as an assistant, so I’m 90% sure I’m going to heaven) and I have had the opportunity to coach across all three divisions. The importance of team building is something that I consider extremely important and no different at any division or level of play. In an ever-changing world and with whatever new nickname we decide to throw at a generation, there is constantly the need for belonging and a sense of camaraderie.
As a self-proclaimed genius (and lover of any excuse to get sidetracked), I am a firm believer that the commitment to team building is hands down one of the most important pieces to the puzzle of coaching. This is something that takes A LOT of time to prep and to execute. A lot more time than most people want to put in. Even though we consider it so important, it is often one of the first things on the chopping block when we are pressed for time. I even find myself guilty of that.
In the beginning of the year it is easy to say, “We will dedicate ‘this’ much time to culture and team building.” Next thing you know, lacrosse happens. You’re almost through October and you realize you haven’t touched 75% of the playbook, the ride is a mess, your goalies need more attention, and your freshmen only know one play. Everyone starts hitting the panic button and we think to ourselves, “That’s it! No more taking time away from practice!” Especially when I fully admit that I have taken up an hour of practice to complete an initiative with the team that was originally supposed to take 20 minutes… Oops, Sorry coach!
But don’t give in! Keep building!
Team building is more than just taking some time to play some “Minute to win it” games and calling it a day. You have to find different ways to engage your entire group. You have to have a mixture of critical thinking questions, group efforts, time restrictions, self-awareness assessments, and competitiveness. You have to come at them from different angles. Utilize the different areas that create a united team: trust, competitiveness, vulnerability, dedication, etc. Where are your weaknesses? Where are your strengths? You have to engage in awkward conversations. You have to ask open-ended questions. You have to be okay with the awkward silence and the “I don’t know” answer (that we all love so much). Then find a way to make them “figure it out” on their own. Even though you literally just spelled it out for them, but you’re sitting there with an awkward smile and two thumbs up saying, “Congratulations, you did it!”
You will spend hours searching the internet for new ideas, prepping crafts (that they will just destroy in seconds like it’s Christmas morning) and organizing games that you inevitably will hear someone say, “Why are we doing this? This is boring.”
BUT! STAY. THE. COURSE.
Eventually you will find the recipe for your team where they magically get along better than ever, they find more chemistry on the field and they put in more time on their own outside of practice. Why? Because they are finding an even bigger purpose, one they may have never realized could exist on a team. Your investment in the time away from the X’s and O’s is now getting its return. They trust more, they accomplish more, they are hungrier, they step outside of their comfort zones and most importantly they grow as humans AND lacrosse players. When you start to see these results, that’s when you start to really realize that the time away from the X’s and O’s and team meetings was really worth it.
It is never “one size fits all.” Every school, every program and every year has a puzzle that looks totally different. Once you figure it out you will likely have to alter your approach slightly for the next year, but you will get the “buy in” and it will continue to grow year after year. Remember they want an investment and a return just as much as you do.
Lastly, and most importantly, be sure you do not skip the opportunity to explain before and after why you are performing these activities. Ask them how it can relate to a practice, to a game and to life. Your opening and closing to the activities are just as important as the actual activity. Again, I’m not suggesting you completely change your practice and meeting plans upside down, but find a way to wedge in some engaging activities through the year. There are countless websites and YouTube videos that you can find with great explanations of activities for your team. I suggest doing your homework ahead of time and trying to map out on your calendar when you are planning on adding this in. This helps with your prep and to prevent you from skipping what you originally planned when time starts to crunch.
If you are ever looking for some quick ideas check out Colgate’s Instagram or Twitter @ColgateWLax – We are always trying to post some of the things we do. Or feel free to reach out (firstname.lastname@example.org). I can’t promise a timely return on my email but I would be happy to help anyone out any way I can!
Good luck this season!