A teammate’s “role” on a team is often brought up in the literature on team cohesion. When sport psychologists are able to help individuals define their roles in a sports team there is proof that the group’s cohesion rises. Additionally, if the psychologist is able to help the individuals of that team accept those roles, the cohesion can climb even higher. The trick, as practitioners who work with groups or teams will attest, rests almost completely with the acceptance, rather than the definition of those roles.
Now most sport psychologists will downplay their ability to “work magic” with athletes. Let’s face it, interventions to change human behavior or in this case specifically to alter perceptions are no easy task. Exercise psychologists will tell you if they knew the secret to evoking change in peoples’ behaviors and perceptions, everyone would quit smoking, run two or three miles a day, and likely become a vegetarian (ok maybe not EVERYBODY).
This is not due to lack of trying. My fellow sport and exercise psychologists are hard at work every day attempting to cook up something new to make the world a healthier place. For me the efforts greatly revolve around bringing more joy to members of a team, be it through winning matches or simply better understanding their teammates. For me, knowing one’s role in a team and moreover accepting this role will create an atmosphere of trust both on and off the playing field. To accomplish this task, it brings me to my latest intervention in practice - the “Bull in the Ring” exercise (Burke, 2005).
Not exactly THAT bull in the ring… Photo credit: Ali Kate Cherkis
Now I have to admit I slightly changed what Burke described in chapter three of Sport Psychology in Practice, but the basic concept has stayed the same. My latest team preferred to sit in a circle and without an object in the center, talking freely about what it meant to be a part of that team. They also did not want to be forced to make a comment about each player, and therefore kept the circle open as each player explained how they saw themselves in the team (both socially and game-related) as well as their own strengths and weaknesses. After the player was finished, the teammates shortly addressed the player’s comments, and added strengths or weaknesses depending on what they felt that player needed to hear. After this, the next player in the circle would begin and the process would start over. This went on until each player had their turn to speak.
That looks more like it. Photo credit: Judy Richter
The “Bull in the Ring” exercise is no magic wand. It cannot turn a group of complete strangers or enemies on a team immediately into life-long friends. What it can do, and so far has done for me, is give team members a chance to see where they stand in their team. It allows them to vent frustrations, give compliments, and further cement their role in the team. Communication used for clarifying roles and feedback from teammates about our perceptions of individuals’ roles is vital to making a more productive and often happier group.
Bull in the Ring reference:
Burke, K.L. (2005). But Coach Doesn’t Understand: Dealing With Team Communication Quagmires. In M. Andersen (Ed.) Sport Psychology in Practice (pp. 45-60). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
Peter Schneider is currently writing a PhD at the University of Leipzig (Germany). He attained a B.A from Kalamazoo College (USA) in Biology and received M.Sc. from the University of Jyväskylä (Finland) in Sport and Exercise Psychology and a M.Sc. from the University of Leipzig in Diagnostics and Intervention. His area of focus is currently career transition and termination of athletes.