Young players can take instructions like 'make the pitch big' and 'check your shoulders' very literally - so take a different approach, says HANNAH DUNCAN MORE
5 ways to develop a strong team bond
Building positive relationships between your players is one of the most important things you can do as a coach.
Not only does it foster a fun, supportive environment, but a strong sense of togetherness can give teams an edge in matches.
Here are five things you could think about doing to develop a positive team spirit…
01 – START EACH SESSION WITH A CATCH UP
I start every training session with a chat – players share how their day was, what is going on at school and any funny stories. Recently, one player was excited about her new jumper so we did a bit of a fashion show while everyone cheered. On matchday, I build 15 minutes into the pre-match activities for late arrivals and player catch-ups, allowing them to chat to each other and kick a ball around at their own pace. I also keep up with players’ birthdays: we make sure to sing Happy Birthday, and allow the birthday girl to choose the warm up as a treat.
02 – MAKE THE WARM UP FUN AND SOCIAL
I judge a good warm up by the smiles. Make it fun – I use things like Cats and Rats (a chase game involving short sprints) or getting pairs to race back-to-back with a ball between them. Afterwards, we will pick out funny moments and some players will do demos of their technique. If I notice any difficult dynamics in the group, or a new player has joined us, I will encourage players to team up with someone they don’t work with very often, to build friendships in a fun, no pressure environment. I have found that a fun, social warm up relaxes players and makes them open to doing more technical training in the practice part of the session.
03 – ROTATE THE CAPTAINCY
There is no one captain in our squad – it is rotated around all of the players. Some take the armband with glee and others are more hesitant but I give as many players as possible the opportunity to lead the team. I announce the captain during the pre-match team talk and explain why they have been chosen, to applause from the other players. I take the same approach with the player of the match: as much as possible I try to rotate it around the players, meaning we celebrate someone different each week.
04 – PRAISE IN UNITS
When something good happens on the pitch, I try to praise as many players for it as I can. For example, rather than celebrating a goal by simply praising the winger for the cross and the striker for the shot, I will take the play as far back as possible to applaud more players, like a defender for winning the ball or an attacker for a run that made space. The same approach can be applied when things don’t work. Rather than a defender taking all of the heat for missing a tackle which leads to a goal, trace the play back to the start of the opposition’s attacking move and pick out areas where lots of players could have intervened. It’s not just ‘win as a team, lose as a team’ – we do everything, big and small, as a team.
05 – ENCOURAGE PLAYERS TO SUPPORT EACH OTHER
Support from a coach is invaluable, but receiving it from teammates can also be a huge boost. Often on matchdays, subs will tell me about how well another player is playing. I will encourage them to tell that team member what they thought when they get the chance, or I will mention it during the team talk. Similarly, when players are struggling – a few of our players suffer with matchday nerves and anxiety – I encourage their teammates to support them. I might give a nervous player a pep talk, then ask a couple of the players to offer some words of encouragement to their teammate. Knowing they have teammates around them that have their back can be a huge help to players.