Enhancing Team Performance in Sports: Strategies and Interventions for Coaches


Before, after or during sports activities, coaches often feel the need to develop their teams and ensure that each team member is fit and ready for the competition. However, according to Phan, Rivera, Volker, & Garrett (2004), one of the most important steps taken by coaches is to develop programs that contribute to a better performance of each team member and consequently the performance of the entire team. Thus, as Allen, & Jones (2014) argues, coaches never select a team but rather select individuals that will eventually form a team. With effective team development programs and strategies implemented during training and at competitions, sports teams are more likely to realize better performance (Phan, Rivera, Volker, & Garrett, 2004). Therefore, while it is clearly important to select the right individuals to develop a sports team, coaches need to work harder in identifying and implementing strategies and interventions that enhance the team’s performance.

For a long time now, sports practitioners have used group dynamics as a tool for improving team performance by understanding various psychological processes that occur within those teams. The concept of group dynamics can be traced back to the times of Kurt Lewin and has been used by sports practitioners to identify how various group dynamic factors influence team functioning (Torosyan, 2008). Group dynamics handles the behavioral patterns and attitudes of a group and define the formation of groups, their structures, norms and processes which guide their functioning. Therefore, group dynamics involve the forces and interactions among groups. Norms explain the acceptable boundaries or standards that are shared by group members. They are usually formed for facilitating group survival, avoid embarrassing moments, expressing group values and making behavior increasingly predictable. Every group creates its norms that determine the work performances. However, group and team dynamics are different, especially concerning their operations in sport. Team dynamics are complicated and multi-layered because it involves many factors such as structure, roles, culture and personalities (Allen, & Jones, 2014). Improving team dynamics consists of carrying out the diagnosis and identifying the kind of intervention that has the best outcome. Therefore, group dynamic interventions entail understanding and making use of various psychological processes to improve sports performance Allen, & Jones (2014) while team dynamics entail diagnosing the team, identifying any potential factor that prevents better performance and developing effective strategies for enhancing the team’s performance (Winship & Hardy, 1999).


Existing research reveal compelling evidence that group dynamics-based interventions can enhance sports performance among teams by facilitating their adherence to physical activity regardless of their age or gender (Brawley et al 2000, Eastbrooks & Carron 1999, & Watson et al 2004). In fact, group dynamics-based intervention has been found to be effective in enhancing the physical activity participation of female university students (Spink & Carron 1993) and post-natal women (Blair et al, 1985).

From a theoretical perspective, (Baumeister & Leary 1995) argued that team and group dynamics interventions work in sports and physical activity context based on the premise that humans have a inherent need to form interpersonal relationship with others and belong to a particular group and this implies that: “frequent, affectively pleasant interactions with a few other people ... and these interactions must take place in the context of a temporally stable and enduring framework of affective concern for each other's welfare” (p. 497).

Another theoretical justification for the use of group and team dynamics interventions is that human’s genetic composition has undergone material change and evolution since the times of homo Sapiens – nearly 40,000 years ago (Eaton & Knonner, 1985). Thus, evolutionary biologists such as Rejeski et al (2003), drawing from the scientific work of Charles Darwin, argue that humans who have a great propensity of living together are more likely to survive and reproduce in the long and short terms that their counterparts who have lower propensity to living together in groups. Thus, as illustrated by empirical evidence below, several group dynamics interventions can be effectively used to enhance sports performance.

Maintaining a lifestyle of physical activity is one of the most important considerations made by sports personnel and is emphasized as an ingredient for good sports performance (Fox, Rejeski, & Gauvin, 2000). Based on this knowledge background, Brawley et al (2000) conducted a study to investigate the effectiveness of group mediated cognitive behavioral therapy (GMCB) as an intervention for enhancing a physically active lifestyle. The study selected 60 individuals and randomized them into one of the two groups as follows: standard physical activity program, GMCB and waiting list control group. Both the standard physical activity and the GMCB were combined into a single home-based activity. The researchers terminated their contact with the participants and conducted a follow-up assessment after 9 months. In the end, the study revealed that the GMCB group had a higher frequency of weekly physical activity than those who engaged in standard physical activity group. However, a follow-up assessment at the 6th month revealed that both the GMCB and standard physical activity groups had a higher aerobic power and where more physically active compared to the control group (Williams et al 2005). However, despite the results that group-mediated cognitive behavioral therapy was effective enhancing physical activity, the inclusion of relatively older participants in this study affect the application of its findings to younger sports athletes.

In another study by Kabaroff et al (2012), the researchers sought to evaluate the effectiveness of GMCB intervention in enhancing physical activity within a corporate context. The study included 20 participant (17 males, & 3 females) employees of a large Canadian corporation. The authors adopted various research methods that would assess how the participants responded to the GMCB intervention and whether it caused effective results. For example, participants were handed weekly fitness logs, anthropometric measurements, field notes and participated in end of program focus group to help with gathering both qualitative and quantitative information regarding the effectiveness of the intervention (Kabaroff et al, 2012). Upon analyzing both qualitative and quantitative data, the former revealed positive outcomes while the latter revealed significant decreases in waist girth over the program’s duration, reduced body fat percentage, and a decrease in body mass index. Furthermore, descriptive statistics revealed an increase in physical exercise frequency and a strong preference for personal, group of mixed physical activity in the course of the program. Ultimately, the study concluded that GMCB intervention can be effective in encouraging physical activity within a corporate context and help to address certain health issues such as body mass index that have a potential harm on health and well-being. Whereas the findings of these studies do not apply directly to young sports athletes, the empirical evidence they produce support the effectiveness of GMCB as an intervention for better sports and physical exercise performance. Nonetheless, more research is necessary on the application of GMCB on a sport context i.e. the future empirical research should indulge more on the effectiveness GMCB as an intervention for enhancing sport performance among young athletes.

Team dynamics interventions

Enhancing cohesion

Effective teamwork gives teams the opportunity of producing outcomes that are greater than individual contributions, and team processes drive them. While skills, attitudes and knowledge are vital for accomplishing task performances, the team competencies are also crucial for all members to interact interdependently and effectively in ways that cause positive team-based results (Hodge, Beauchamp, & Fletcher, 2018). This is alongside showing expertise at the individual level. Regardless of the increased expectations of working collaboratively and its associated benefits, companies have continued reporting lacking team competencies. Therefore, there is a compelling need for positioning empirically tested and psychologically healthy ways of boosting effective teamwork and skills.

Among the various factors of team dynamics, team cohesion merges as one of the most significant one, with (Filho, Tenenbaum, & Yang, 2015), (Luoma, Hämäläinen, & Saarinen, 2008) and (Gorman, Amazeen, & Cooke, 2010) agreeing that improving team cohesion can lead to considerable levels of success with the team. Thus, developing interventions for improving team dynamics may have a positive effect on team dynamics as we are about to prove.

In a study by (Ej, 2007), cohesion is considered as a significant tool for attracting and keeping team members together. Consequently, researchers in the field of psychology have increasingly developed interest in cohesion, given existing research evidence that it creates a highly interactive group across both co-acting sports such as golf and interactive sports such as soccer (Meyer, 1994).

To understand cohesion, Chang, Sy, & Choi (2012) observed that it is a multidimensional concept that consist of various social dimensions, group-level and individual-level orientations. Furthermore, according to (Filho, Tenenbaum, & Yang 2015), cohesion entails the extent to which group members perceive themselves and how they interact during tasks as well as within various social activities. This multidimensional nature of team cohesion makes t more complex for most practitioners to develop (Chang, Sy, & Choi, 2012).

Considering that a team is a group that must achieve a common objective (Chang, Sy, & Choi 2012), existing research has revealed several strategies and interventions that can be used to enhance team cohesion within a group. For instance, Mathieu et al (2015) conducted a study to investigate the relationship between team performance and team cohesion as mediated by shared leadership and team members’ competence. The secondary research involved synthesis of evidence from 17 studies of heterogenous study designs. Also, the study relied on a longitudinal data of 57 student teams how were involved in a complex business simulation program for at least 10 weeks to evaluate whether there was a reciprocal relationship between team cohesion and performance overtime and the extent to which the two variables were related. Generally, Mathieu et al (2015) found a reciprocal relationship between team cohesion and performance. Nonetheless, a finer analysis of the results revealed that the performance-cohesion relationship was significantly weaker than the cohesion-performance relationship. Furthermore, the study found that while the cohesion-performance relationship grew stronger over time, the performance-cohesion relationship remained consistent over time. This implies that cohesion has a stronger effect on performance than performance does on cohesion. Therefore, while not to a greater extent, improving team performance through other strategies can contribute to improved cohesion among the team, which will in turn cause further positive effects on cohesion. Nonetheless, Mathieu et al (2015) also found a direct positive relationship between shared leadership and team cohesion even though no such direct relationship was found between shared leadership and performance. This implies shared leadership can be used as an intervention for enhancing team cohesion.

These findings confirm the results of other studies (Crombie, 1970) that group cohesion as an intervention for enhancing team performance can be influenced by various factors including individual team member role, the team’s perception of their capabilities, team objectives, as well as the respective responsibilities of each team members. Consequently, developing an effective sports team and improving team dynamics may involve the use of strategies of enhancing team cohesion such as effective communication both in the professional and social context, establishment of clear roles among team members, developing effective problem-solving approaches, appreciating good work and exploring various team motivation strategies that will boost the team member’s morale (Swetenham, Hegarty, Breaden, & Grbich, 2011).

Team leaders therefore play a crucial role in enhancing team cohesion and by effect; improving team dynamics. Furthermore, leadership training must be discussed. Leadership training is a systematically designed intervention that enhances the leadership skills, knowledge, components and abilities. The goals of these programs are ensuring that the participants can act efficiently in formally appointed leadership duties and take part in successful leadership behaviors which support capable team processing. While leadership training has been criticized (Kong, Konczak, & Bottom, 2015), recent events claim that it improves transfer, organizational results and learning. This means that these programs do not only affect the leaders taking part in the program but also influences the desired subordinate results. They increase the capabilities of leaders which improves the overall performances of the team. The effect of team training can be explained through the Standard Model.

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` In conclusion, this essay has established that there are various strategies that can be used to effectively improve group dynamics and team dynamics. With regards to group dynamics, the reviewed empirical evidence indicate that group mediated cognitive behavioral therapy (GMCB) can be used as an effective tool for enhancing group dynamics; even though the evidence upon which this conclusion is made may not apply to younger athletes. On the other hand, improved group cohesion (through strategies such as effective communication and clear role demarcation) has emerged as an effective tool for enhancing team dynamics.


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