This week, Aaron Rodgers, the Green Bay Packers’ quarterback, was interviewed on a radio show discussing the impact that Covid 19 has had on the season. Some games have been rescheduled while others have been played with a depleted roster due to the virus. The NFL has set standards for positive tests, making players inactive who were considered close contacts of someone who had a positive test, and making sure that the players have multiple negative tests before returning to the field.
While all of this is certainly what drives the headlines, the interesting piece of the interview came when Rodgers was discussing the impact it has had on cohesion with his teammates. During these times, players are not going to each other’s homes to have dinners together or going to Halloween parties, for example, to celebrate a holiday that always falls during the season. Rodgers explains that they used to be able to do a lot as a team or even position groups that helped build cohesion with their teammates off the field instead of just what they can do in practice and during virtual meetings.
While we wish that athletes could be robots that can easily turn it on when they step into competitions, that is certainly not the case. These athletes are human and do enjoy camaraderie with their teammates, especially with a group of teammates that they may end up spending more time with than their own families in the peak of their seasons.
Hearing a professional athlete discuss the importance of team cohesion shows that it should be a priority for every team. However, how do you do this during a time where you must be socially distant, and you certainly want to prevent the spread of Covid 19 to an entire team?
Coaches who want their teams to click on the court or field need to find ways to have them click together without adding extra activities that may not be able to be done this year. Prioritizing time in practice or with some extra meetings can go a long way to creating cohesion among teammates.
This may mean spending some time before, during, or after practice to do some team building activities or scheduling extra meetings where players can discuss things they enjoy doing outside of their sports whether that is a virtual meeting or in person but socially distanced.
You can also incorporate “getting to know you” games into practices. For example, partner new players with returning players in a basketball passing drill where they can learn things about one another. Give them a list of topics that they can cover such as their favorite color, how many siblings they have, what other sports they like to play, their favorite college and professional basketball team or player, etc. You can also play a game where you designate enough spots for everyone on the team except for one person whether you are using chairs or spots on the floor. Have a person stand in the middle and say something they like. For example, a player can say their favorite flavor of ice cream is vanilla. Everyone who also feels the same way is to get up and move spots until their is one person left standing without a designated chair or spot. That person then becomes the middle person saying something they like, and the pattern continues. You can learn a lot about what people’s favorite things are as well as the things that they think of to share with their teammates.
Many teams seem to prioritize the physical training of their teams or the execution of the x’s and o’s. However, this year has shown us that team cohesion and things that you may not be able to measure quantitatively are just an important and should be emphasized. This cohesion also creates enjoyment for players to consistently want to work together and get better as a group which can only translate to success in competitions.
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