“The way a team plays as a whole determines its success.
You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world,
but if they don’t play together,
the club won’t be worth a dime.”
Perceiving the team aspect in the game of hockey, we can go a long way back. Field hockey is one of the oldest team sports in the world, dating back nearly 3,000 years to the Greek classical era, where the sport closely resembled the modern Gaelic sport of hurling. Field hockey reached its modern form in the 19th century as a game played between two teams of eleven players each. Teams compete on a standard 100 x 60 yard field and attempt to score goals by hitting a ball off the ground into a net guarded by the opposite team’s goalkeeper.
We can see that the team aspect has been important in the game of hockey for a long period of time. But how do we create a true team, how do we glue these hockeyplayers together so they can function as one entity, persuing that gold medal and what can team coaches and captains put on the table for this team aspect?
It’s clear that every great hockey team in history has had one thing in common: Team chemistry. When hockey players come together to create a unified team, the possibilities seem endless. It has been evidenced time and time again that skill and ability will only get you so far, groups of hockey players must have an intangible bond to fulfill their true potential. Talent alone is not the only key to winning. Having the most talented hockey players does not matter if they refuse to get along, sacrifice and play as a team.
Team chemistry is critical to building a championship caliber. Hockey as a sport is getting more professional every day. At the elite level of the hockey game, the difference between winning and losing is all in details.
Strategies to have a strong collective and team dynamics that pushes towards winning, can make a difference at the highest level of the hockey game. So whether you are a hockey coach, hockey captain, or a hockey player, building a solid team foundation is a must if you want to succeed.
But how can we optimize our hockey teams, and how should hockey coaches and captains play a role in this? Being part of a hockey team is a bit like being in a class at school. As a player, you’re surrounded by people with different interests and from various walks of life. But when the game starts there must be that common goal, that unites all players and make them one.
Here are some strategies that can easily be applied by hockey players, coaches and captains, to promote positive team dynamics, build a strong and functional team, so performance can be optimized.
Create a common goal
The success of any team is that there must be a clear single goal. Many teams fail when there are multiple agendas. Hockey teams that succeed are those that have communicated a common purpose and goal.
Have a clear and defined goal
With all communication in a hockey team clarity is a must. Great communication keeps team members from aborting the core of the project due to lack of understanding of the overall purpose. Frequent communication of the project purpose can be vital in keeping the team on track.
Have the commitment from each team member
For a group of people to function as a productive hockey team, there has to be a commitment from each player to the team. This can be the fall of many team projects when there is a lack of commitment.
Work as a team, play as a team
You can tell when teams have spent time together both in a working and social environment. Successful hockey teams can anticipate what others will do and how they will respond. This can only happen by being together.
It’s not about YOU!
The hardest attitude to grasp in playing a role on a hockey team is that “it’s not about you.” It not about your resume, what others will think, it’s about playing a role to accomplish the goal or task that has been given. Therefore the hardest challenge to any hockey coach is getting a group of players to function as a team and place their personal ambitions to the side.
Do what you do best
The purpose of assembling a hockey team, is to group together players that have specific skills to accomplish a specific project. The purpose in which an player is selected is based on their skills that they bring to the field. When putting a hockey team together, there are two ways to look at this approach. You can select those that you can guarantee their performance or mingle in new members to set the tone for productive team collaboration. A team should be perceived as puzzle pieces that can be placed in a variety of ways.
Everyone can’t lead
Every team needs a team leader. There are many ways to choose a leader. Some team leaders choose to select by an players area of skills or their ability to communicate and manage their players. The ideal situation is to delegate to a team member that is skilled in both areas.
You’ve got to talk to each other
Not only is communication of the team goal vital, but frequent updates of the chosen goal is important. With multiple tools at our fingertips, to not communicate is a sure sign of lack of commitment from team members and must be explored and be taken seriously.
Hockey coaches, I encourage you to sit down with the rest of your coaching staff and your players to discuss the kind of culture your team wants to have. You should ask the following questions (and any others that you think relevant). Your team members can ask the same questions. Reciprocity in your team should be a key feature:
- What values do we want to act as the foundation for our team culture?
- What attitudes and beliefs about hockey as a sport, competition, and team do we want to hold?
- What are the goals that our team wants to pursue?
- How do the players and coaches want to treat each other?
- What kind of atmosphere do you want on your hockey team?
When you ask and answer these questions, you are proactively developing a team culture of your team’s own design rather than leaving it to chance. In doing so, you are building a team that has its best chance of being positive and supportive and, as a result, performing at its highest level possible.
Team captain’s role is golden: earning the Captain’s Band and make it work
A team captain plays a massive important role in the team building process. A captain of a hockey team, can motivate and direct players of his or her team. So being a team captain is not only an honor, but also an important duty.
As field hockey captain you may be responsible for organizing team workouts, bonding activities, huddles, and public relations. Far more important, it is the captain’s job to cultivate the team’s attitude and morale. In field hockey it is extremely important to uphold your field hockey team’s values through leading on and off the field.
The captain must continually act in the team’s best interests while providing the glue that holds the team together. Although this may sound daunting, being a field hockey captain can be very fun and rewarding.
There are some strategies that can easily be applied by captains of a hockey team, to really make that captain’s band work:
Learn to lead
Just appointing or electing a group of hockey players to a leadership role and expecting them to do it well will not work. You would not give them a ball and say ‘OK, now you’re a talented hockey player’ without coaching, education, teaching, training, practice, feedback and development. Great leadership groups need to be trained and educated in how to lead. Team captains should acknowledge this and aim for this kind of education and development.
Give and earn responsibility
Some coaches ‘talk the talk’ about empowerment, engagement and hockey players own decisions but when push comes to shove, they take the power off the team captain. Giving a captain limited power to make decisions then taking it off them as soon as the team is under pressure denies the captain any sense of responsibility. Than it’s a captain in name only.
As captain of a hockey team you should be aware of this tendency of team coaches and staff to take away earlier given power. It’s important that a team captain makes clear agreements with his coach and staff of what is expected from each other and to keep on evaluating this process.
The same rules must apply to the team captain that apply to the rest of the team. Players do not tolerate double standards or inequity within teams. Everyone plays by the same rules or there can be no trust, and without trust, teams do not succeed. A team captain should strive for this equivalency.
Real meaningful decisions
Some hockey clubs allow the leadership group to make decisions about jersey colours, where the team will go for the end-of-season holiday, what food to eat at the annual presentation dinner and not much else. Teach the leadership group, represented by the team captain, to lead and trust them to make significant decisions, and to own and implement them. And to be held accountable for them. This kind of responsibility is an extremely powerful tool in the team building process. As a team captain ask for more responsibility and make it work.
Responsibility and accountability
Responsibility and accountability. Responsibility and accountability. Are you getting the idea yet?
Honest, regular feedback
Players grow from receiving honest, regular feedback. Team captains grow the same way. Provide opportunities for team captains to give and receive honest feedback from their team-mates, coaches, staff and management. Do not be afraid of conflict. People who trust each other can give honest feedback and learn, grow and improve through vigorous (even heated) debate. As a captain don’t be afraid to provide your players of feedback and perhaps even more important to receive feedback.
Team captains must listen ten times more than they talk. Captains who listen to, respect and care about the views of their players they represent are the greatest of all leaders.
Start ’em young
Just as you would not wait until a hockey player was 25 to teach them how to pass, and run. If you want true captains, train them young. Ensure a significant and well-structured leadership development program is integral to your elite player development program. As a captain train your other players as well how to provide feedback in a honest way and to think about new ideas to improve. Make them more complete as player.
The culture virus
Culture changes and grows from the inside out. Provide opportunities for the captain of the team to ‘infect’ the rest of the team with a winning culture and positive attitudes. So enjoy the ‘new’ leadership. Help players learn to lead, and provide them with the environment and opportunity to evolve into quality leaders and your team, players, hockey club and hockey sport will all benefit.
Research showed , that overall, there is a significant moderate to large relationship between cohesion and performance. A larger cohesion-performance effect is found for female hockey teams, therefore an aim for a strong and positive team cohesion is especially important for female hockey teams.
When you play hockey at the elite level, we all know, that the difference between winning and losing can be marginal. It’s in the details at that level. I believe that positive team dynamics and leadership can make a difference.
Despite personal differences, hockey players, coaches and staff, should focus purely on a specific goal, a championship and only concern themselves with that. A dedicated and positive team captain can be a powerful tool in achieving these goals. This can be a true recipe for success.
Taking the above into consideration, you can imagine I’m really looking forward to the Hockey World Cup 2014 in The Hague. Because we all know, the team with the best skilled players doesn’t always win.
With the perfect team chemistry, strange things can happen!
Annemieke Zijerveld, MSc
Annemieke is a clinical psychologist and lecturer mental health in Sports at StatuMentis. Within the field of sport Annemieke specialized in team optimization and supporting athletes who are suffering from depression, anxiety disorders and burnout. Annemieke also has great interest in the psychological determinants of doping behaviour. She works on various research programs in this field and is developing several drug prevention programs.