6 Tips for Building Team Camaraderie
The best hockey seasons, win or lose, happen when everyone on a team gets along. When every player is supportive and friendly, practice and games—and the locker room—are fun. Nothing, even losing, causes more misery to parents and players than cliques and bullying in the locker room and on the ice. Plus, results on the ice indicate that closer-knit teams do perform better. So it’s no wonder that many coaches devote so much energy to ensuring that players not only improve their stickhandling skills but also their friendships.
From pizza parties after games to team volunteer outings at the local food bank, hockey coaches and parents brainstorm and organize a variety of opportunities for players to bond with their teammates. “When a team goes away for an out-of-town weekend they seem to play better as team because they have had the chance for isolated one-on-one bonding. They have learned to trust each other,” says Dave McDonell, who has coached a range of age levels over the past nine years.
As teams are formed each year, coaches face everything from trying to bond a group of strangers to handling existing cliques within a team. Nobody can force people to like each other, but you can encourage players to get to know each other and develop respect for each other. To promote team camaraderie, try the following:
- Break the ice. Begin with simple but fun icebreaker activities so the players feel more comfortable—but don’t discontinue them once everyone knows each other’s names. Continue brainstorming and playing get-to-know you games throughout the season.
- Treat players equally. By giving each player an equal amount of attention, coaches decrease the likelihood of divisions within a team. Often, if players sense coaches have “favorites,” it adds more challenges to creating a team mentality. “If you only focus on a few, and you tend to have a habit of doing that, the others will fall off and become peripheral if you’re not careful,” says Sam Rogers, who has coached in Minnesota for over 20 years.
- Take technology out of the equation. Rogers advises banning cellphones and iPods in the locker room so the players use the time to grow closer together instead of text messaging their classmates or listening to music.
- Monitor the locker room. In addition to forbidding the use of personal technology, it’s crucial to create a friendly locker room environment to boost team solidarity. “You need to have some strong captains, and you need to have some locker room monitoring,” McDonell says. (This is not just a good idea—it’s a USA Hockey requirement to have a responsible adult in the locker room when players are present.)
- Encourage optimism and empathy. Since parents spend time with their players on drives to and from the rink as well as at home, they can help create stronger team bonds by encouraging their player to bring an optimistic attitude and show empathy for his teammates at all practices and games.
- Socialize. By offering their house for a team party or organizing other social events, parents can help out both the coach and the players as well. “Parents certainly get involved when it comes to doing creative things outside of the actual sport,” Sam says.
Besides giving pep talks to your player, organizing group activities or cheering from the bleachers, don’t meddle in the team’s issues. Whether a player, coach or parent, it’s crucial to stay positive in order to get the most out of the season.
Editor’s Note: Thank you to Rose Conry, an intern with the Grow the Game Initiative, for this story. Rose studies journalism at Northwestern University, loves all sports and sails competitively with the university’s club team.
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