According to Miller (Why Teams Win), a successful team has these characteristics: a sense of purpose, talent, leadership, strategy, commitment, feedback, chemistry, identity. All of these components are developed in off season team training in a way that’s impossible during the abbreviated pre-competitive season team practice.
A Sense of Purpose: According to psychologists, “We’re going to win” isn’t specific enough to be a purpose. In the off season teams can have very specific goals set, mapped to their competitive success. “Everyone is going to accelerate better” with specific individual numbers and team average numbers, mapped to specific plays in football – is motivating. Every member of the team being able to correctly change direction, cutting down on the time that it takes to do so, with individual and team average numbers – is a commitment. Map that to getting down a basketball court and into position to receive a pass and there is a specific scenario that the kids work will achieve. In this area the luxury of having the team together in the off- season is the consistent repetition of common current goals, the consistent mapping to common season commitments, and the common push to work to achieve that.
In off season training both individual and team goals can be set, progress constantly measured and corrections made without the pressure of an immediate competition looming over the athletes; they can concentrate on fundamentals and technique- together.
Leadership: We know that modeling is one of the most effective forms of the teaching/learning paradigm, and in sports you’re the leader. Since coaches are prohibited from being with their teams a significant part of the year, you have to find alternative methods of having that team work together to build their identity, trust, and commitment. The coach who has researched team training programs then gone to the time and trouble of organizing training offers a model of commitment to their team. Modeling that commitment, the expectation that work goes on all year long, is an important element in building your team, in developing the collective responsibility for a team’s success.
Talent: We know that what is called talent is often really hard, targeted work towards a goal. Having team members with core athletic competencies and the same knowledge of fundamental technical skills becomes a foundation for confidence. Confidence motivates training. Training develops talent. Everyone is practicing, everyone is learning. And as they attain levels of mastery - hey, success breeds success. We know that when people consistently think positively they create neurological networks that facilitate success; achieving small goals together as a team creates the ability to accomplish larger goals.
Strategy: In off season team training core, skills can be developed by insisting that movements are done correctly, each and every time. It is practiced development that physically enables athletes to perform those movements in sequence during actual competition, without conscious thought given to that movement. That leaves the athlete free to concentrate on actual plays, positions, and strategy.
Commitment: In a large scale survey of thousands of teams and corporate groups, every one rated commitment as the most important quality of a successful team. Going through off season training together is team commitment; it is taking collective responsibility for the team’s success. Spending time together working towards a non-immediate goal is a commitment. The kids are going to get to points in the training where they want to quit, or they’d rather go to the beach, and they’re going to push each other to keep on going. That comes out in competition- that push to keep on going. We’ve borrowed an attitude from Microsoft Corporation - their people don’t have goals, they have commitments, because these are results they are committed to achieving rather than goals that they are directing themselves toward. We use the word goals to designate numerical measures. We use commitment to designate what a team is going to accomplish together.
Feedback: We know that feedback should be 4 times positive responses to every negative response- but that’s almost an impossible ratio to pull off in preparation for weekly or bi-weekly competitions. The reality is, with a large group of kids and a lot to learn about plays, strategy, defense, few head coaches have the staff to make sure that every movement is done correctly - to consciously think about praise vs correction ratios. During off season team training feedback can be better managed. There is a time luxury and a working ratio luxury that in-season practice just doesn’t have. We find that the kids start echoing that feedback pattern – encouraging each other when things get harder during competition rather than dwelling on what didn’t work and blaming.
We all know that who you think you are is the basis of how you will perform – and teams that train together during the off-season have a much more positive concept of themselves as a team.
Chemistry: We tend to think of team chemistry as something that either is or isn’t -- and just like talent, that’s not right. Until our athletes spend significant time together they are not going to be able to build bonds that create a positive team identity. A positive rhythm is self-perpetuating and draws the kids in. Team chemistry doesn’t mean that the kids have to become best friends (although a lot of times we know they do) - it is the synergy, the energy flow among the athletes that allows them to create something that none of them could create individually. That synergy takes time together, working together, and being really annoyed that they’re in the gym together when they’d rather be doing something else!
Identity: A team has to know who they are as a group, and have a vision of what they want to be. There are a lot of stories of coaches who have turned competitions around by simply reminding their team – “That’s not who we are. We didn’t play the way we are.” Think about a normal season - there is little time in most of our sports to build that identity. Athletes have to trust each other – you don’t pass in basketball or pass the puck, if you don’t have confidence that you’re teammate is going to take that and move the team forward. Training together, getting through some adversity in a non-competitive situation without an audience, builds that trust. Time together with everyone learning gives them a picture of the other members of their team. Not only do they get tighter as a team, but they are more committed as an individual to the team; they don’t want to let the others down.
Now, obviously, we'd like to have you all come to Parisi Speed School at HealthQuest to train your teams. But,however you do it, get them together, somewhere where knowledgeable people train them as a group and work with them to develop their team identity and commitment.
The Off Season not only teaches sports skills, but psychological skills, and life skills that are invaluable.