WIN ARTICLE #138 Building Team Unity


Building Team Unity
By: Ben Peterson

Often team unity seems to develop on its own as athletes and coaches get a common goal and work toward that goal. But any experienced coach knows he can and must work at building team unity. Many aspects of building a team began as soon as the previous season ended, so any time is a good time to discuss and work towards your wrestling team’s unity.
My recommendation is to work the following aspects. Don’t expect to accomplish all at the same level, but consider which elements are most fitting for your team right now.

1. Select and work with team captain(s).
Last month, I explained the liaison value of team captains. They are often the go-between for coaches and team members. Clear team communication can be worked on throughout the year. The captain should be mature enough to bring stability, to encourage and advise new recruits, and show loyalty. Meanwhile his experience helps inform and prepare the younger and new team members for the challenge of the season.
A captain can help hold team members accountable, inspire, and keep hope alive. And the more a captain personally trains and includes others with him, the better. Off-season training by captains who include their teammates is invaluable. Time together can build team unity between individual members more than almost anything else.
Working with captain(s) through the spring and summer for lifting, running, open wrestling, camps, freestyle and Greco can be most helpful. For the coach to meet and encourage his captain(s) and upperclassmen during this time will be a team builder in itself.

2. Preseason
Beginning strong is important. Many coaches have found a Fall Meeting or Team Event very helpful to unite a team. Preliminary equipment, rules, schedules, and expectations presented to the entire team and their parents can help avoid many questions and misunderstandings later on. Potluck dinners are very popular for this. Introductions and friendships can develop and renew between all individuals involved which will expand team unity.
Preseason captain’s practices are often the norm. Before official practices can be led by the coach, the captains and upperclassmen can lead lifting, conditioning and some wrestling.
Some type of activity or retreat with the team early in the season is a way to get wrestlers talking to each other about their goals away from the grind of daily practices. This event could be done in your own school after hours where there is more time to be together and dream. Fun, playful activities will expand team unity at these events. For years Jan and I found it valuable to host our team for a meal in our home. We also find a retreat setting helpful to build team unity.

3. A Consistent Practical Practice Format.
My recommendation is to include the following elements in most daily practices. The order can be changed but there should be a consistency so that team members know expectations regarding the format and the start and finish times.
1. Prepare a clean, attractive work space called the wrestling or practice room.
2. Announcements - to inform, motivate and unite
3. Warm-ups
4. Teaching and drilling
5. Wrestle continuous and hard
6. Condition and cool down
These six practice elements become the framework on which to hang anything brought to practice time. An enjoyable work atmosphere needs to be created. Clean, orderly, and non-distractive are words that should direct us. An orderly sharp practice area shows the importance of training and the value and respect for the team from the coach, school, and supporters.
My personal opinion is that many wrestling rooms are cluttered with distracting music that is too loud for the coach to give directions or individual coaching. If you use music, ask yourself if what you are selecting is meant for a barroom, bedroom, or other places. Music can bring a lot of confusion and distraction to the work space of a wrestling room.

4. Elements that can make or Break Team Unity.
1. Match Unity - Simple expectations during a dual or tournament should be spelled out. Such things as wrestlers staying on the bench and cheering for teammates can help build unity. Tournaments are somewhat different with getting meals and rest between matches, so simply stated expectations are helpful.
2. Use your Assistants - Communicate with them. Be on the same page. The better you know them, the better you will know where they can do the most for your team. As an Olympic Champion, it was easy to think that I should do all the teaching. But with time I figured out others knew a lot of things that I did not know. Having assistants teach their specialties expands your team’s knowledge and also keeps the coaches working as a unit.
3. Selecting the Team - A few teams are required to limit the squad to a given number, so the coach may need to do some cutting. Coaches must select a varsity. They differ on how they select their varsity, but they must all consider the effects it will have on team unity. “Wrestle offs” done properly can clearly define the winner or loser, so officiating needs to be sharp. Coach-picked teams are also popular. There the coach must be strong enough to explain or answer questions and hold his ground. At the end only a few are selected for state and national tournaments. You will need to work at keeping all the team engaged while the final few push for the final and highest goals.
4. Weight Cutting - This can be an element that unites or divides. A strong team should understand that some individuals are working extra to make a weight to make the team stronger. Encouraging others to understand and support those working with their weight will be important as the season progresses.
5. Illness and Skin Infection - These can dishearten a team if not dealt with strongly by team leadership. New wrestlers will need to be taught the importance of working to avoid them. The daily washing of mats, daily vitamins, proper consistent nutrition and rest are all factors that need to be continually used to minimize illness and skin infections. Ongoing communication with the sick and infected team members is important to keep them feeling a part of the team.
6. Individual Coaching - Coaches need to work with individuals, particularly varsity and those qualifying and moving on to state and national tournaments. This individual coaching is vital. Yet we should avoid the breakdown of the team practice and shunning those who did not qualify. Keep the team element strongly led each day by your captain, assistants, and/or yourself.

Some of these elements are more essential than others at this time in your program, so major on these. Finding and using mature team captains and coaches is priority. Unite the team early and then build on that with a steady practice format. Stay alert and watch how you can improve unity throughout the season by addressing all elements of the game of wrestling.

Find other articles and the book called “ROAD TO GOLD” by Ben at: Today Ben & John Peterson run Camp of Champs Wrestling Retreats. Contact them at: PO Box 222 Watertown, WI 53094 920-918-0542

Asics USA Wrestling The Competitor
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