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Achieving Better Team Chemistry

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Team chemistry is something that changes from season to season. A team consisting of identical players from one year to the next can easily have different team chemistry each season. Some young coaches have a hard time understanding how important it is and some even struggle to know exactly what it is. To succeed as a coach you MUST understand this subject and take it very serious.

Chemistry is the makeup of each team and can refer to a couple of different things. You could be talking about chemistry on the court or off the court – sometimes they directly affect each other. It’s all about the mixture of feelings, attitudes and motives the players and coaches have.

One reason Phil Jackson is such an amazing coach is his ability to handle conflict and create synergy amongst his players. He isn’t the smartest guy in the world when it comes to x’s and o’s he just flat out knows how to motivate and lead. He knows how to take a bunch of guys with different backgrounds & personalities and make them mesh together in near perfect harmony.

It has been proven so many times that just because you have the 5 most talented players on the floor does not mean you will always win. A perfect example of this is what we have witnessed happen to the United States Olympic Basketball Program over the past 10 years. It has become more and more apparent that having the right team chemistry is an essential ingredient to championship teams.

I was on a number of teams that had great team chemistry and others that didn’t. I’ll focus on the elements that I believe are most important to building team chemistry and others that will destroy it.

What Builds Team Chemistry:

  • Communication is the key to team chemistry and this starts at the top. Good coaches understand that in order to have a solid team they need to be able to communicate effectively the role of each and every player. Players need to know what is expected or they can get lost. They’ll start to listen to outside voices and that leads to problems. The first step of earning trust is to have open doors and let players communicate their feelings without holding it against them. Players that trust their coach will play hard for them.
  • Fairness and Equality is next on my list. Players want everyone to be treated equally regardless of them being the best or worst player on the team. If the best player is slacking but doesn’t get punished but the worst player does then you start to create a chasm between players and coaches. I’ve seen this a hundred times. Coaches have the tough choice of balancing between the two because sometimes not playing the best player results in a loss. I am a firm believer that every coach who stands his ground for the good of the team will earn the respect of the best and worst players. It creates trust. Players want to and need to trust their coach. When they start to feel like certain players are getting a free pass it destroys any chemistry that was there before.
  • Role Acceptance. Teams with great chemistry understand their role and excel at it. Do you think that Lamar Odom wanted to come off the bench for the Lakers or start? Of course he wanted to start but Phil Jackson had to get Odom to buy into his role and it worked. Once Odom accepted his role the team was able to go to another level. If a coach will communicate the role and get the player to buy in then the team will have better team chemistry and the difference will be seen on the floor.

What Destroys Team Chemistry:

  • Listening to outside sources. I know that this is something that is hard to do and I probably should have called this ‘believing outside sources’. Coaches and teams do all they can to build unity and team goals and outside sources come in and voice opinions and it tears a team apart. The same thing goes for us that are married. When couples have problems they should work together and not listen to outside opinions. When they start to believe those opinions it can destroy the relationship and a basketball team is no different.
  • Apathy. When players or coaches show a lack of interest or caring it is over. That will spread like cancer among the team and destroy it. Teams will give up easier and be willing to accept losses. Nothing destroys a team quicker than apathy or lack of caring about one another.

There is nothing to me like watching a team that truly enjoys playing together and trusts each other. The best team chemistry I have seen in recent years is the ILLINOIS team of 2005. They were led by Dee Brown, Deron Williams and Luther Head and if you have time to watch an old tape of them then do it because you’ll see what real chemistry is. Those guys had each other’s back and would be where they said they’d be on the court. They didn’t care who scored as long as someone did and they picked each other up. They ended at 37-2 and lost in the NCAA title game but that team was amazing.

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