Building A Family Team Environment

Building A ‘Family’ Team Environment

The hardest thing for basketball coaches to accomplish is taking 12-15 kids, all of whom possess different views of life, and mold a cohesive unit with a shared vision of what the coach wants to accomplish during a season.  Many coaches talk about ‘family’ but building that feeling is more than a coach saying “you must become close” or “pick one teammate and know everything about them by practice tomorrow.”

Knowing another human being requires group members to be vulnerable and share life events which make them who they are. Accomplishing this activity termed ‘personal (or cultural) mapping’ works well. One day every season I cancel practice after ten minutes and order pizzas for a team meeting in a quiet classroom. Once there, I ask players to answer the following:

  • Describe and explain five personal defining moments that shaped who you are and why.
  • Describe and explain five global (planetary) defining moments that shaped you and why.
  • Describe three strategies you utilize when dealing with other human beings.

‘Defining’ moment is an event, situation, or circumstance which occurs during the life course permanently altering someone’s view or outlook, usually making one stronger. Examples might include: obtaining first driving license, first time playing on a team, a death or divorce, first broken romantic relationship, etc.

‘Global defining moments’ are events that happened worldwide (even before their birth) impacting the individual. Examples might include: living through a natural disaster, the election of the first black President, the technology boom, a national or worldwide recession, wars and terrorism, etc.

Finally, strategy used to interact with other human beings might include: a firm handshake, eye contact, courtesy, respect for elders, treat others the way one would like to be treated, etc.

The paramount part of the exercise is having each player explain answers in detail; not simply reading a list three or five events or strategies. After the written activity is completed; each player must share everything with the team. The primary goal is having team members learn what makes the others tick and view teammates as human beings, not simply players.   

Once people know the life history of one another; they search for commonalities shared. 

The result is they fight harder for each other, help one another improve, and develop trust between all members of the team. If a coach can create this type of environment, reaching team goals and maximizing potential becomes something that can be accomplished and not hoped. Fifteen team members knowing each other personally and having the trust to share it will create something special. That family environment allows everyone to maintain and share the exact vision of team goals.

I did this exercise with my teams that didn’t know each other well — and I always find huge success with it. A few teams already had a sense of family because they had known each other for a decade or more.  It takes a commitment from a coach; but it’s worth it and provides beauty as kids transform from self-centered to selfless teammates. 

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