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Building the spirit back into your team: Team spirit

Irish rugby team
Team spirit

Sport psychologists receive enquiries from coaches and managers about how they can get their team to function better. The coaches and managers wish to know how they can get the most out of their squads when it matters most with unbreakable team spirit. Researchers have explored how we can increase cohesion, communication, and confidence, as well as clarifying roles and undertaking those roles with acceptance, precision, and respect. Paradis and Martin (2012) offered a few ways to get started on team building for your team in your sport.

Clarifying Roles on the Team

Being clear on one’s roles helps the person to undertake the role with confidence and control. One way to ensure athletes and coaches are looking in the same direction together is by using ‘coach-athlete interviews’ in which coaches record their beliefs relating to the roles of each athlete on the team, while athletes document their own perceptions of their respective roles, followed by a subsequent discussion to make adjustments to each person's understanding.

Anonymous Teammate Feedback

Another method to clarify roles on the team is using anonymous teammate feedback. Each team member is required to provide a statement outlining the actions for Player X to ensure the team’s success. Following that, it is advisable for the team to assemble and exchange their responses, subsequently evaluating the coherence of their beliefs. Sometimes athletes are not satisfied with their role or cannot accept the role presented by the coach or management team. To be a team player, however, players need to accept their role for the greater benefit of the team and their goals. Part of this process means that the coach and manager need to offer feedback, keep focused on the team’s vision and emphasise the importance of all members pulling together in the same direction.

Establishing Team Norms

Carron (1981) argued that team norms are valuable for at least two reasons. First, athletes who willingly adhere to team norms collaborate to uphold group cohesion and, second, norms provide valuable insight into team processes and establish standards for individuals to evaluate themselves and others. Eys et al. (2006) presented four steps to establish team norms:

(1) foster a sense of ownership (e.g., involve players to make some decisions), 

(2) clarify expectations with a group of athlete leaders, (e.g., a code of expectations) 

(3), make sure everyone on the team knows what's expected (i.e., know their jobs on the team) and 

(4) implement sanctions and rewards (let the players decide how to reward or reprimand themselves). 

Each team will have their standards and behaviours that fit their team for competition, practice, social settings, and the off-season. Setting these standards falls upon the coach and management team as well as the senior leaders group. In any case, what matters most, its that thinking about what's best for the team comes ahead of what is best for the individual. 


Carron, A. V. (1981). Processes of group interaction in sport teams. Quest, 33, 245–270.

Eys, M. A., Patterson, M. M., Loughead, T. M., & Carron, A. V. (2006). Team building in sport. In J. Duda, D. Hackfort, & R. Lidor (Eds.), Handbook of research in applied sport psychology: International perspectives (pp. 219–231). Morgantown, WV: Fitness Information Technology.

Paradis, K. F., & Martin, L. J. (2012). Team building in sport: Linking theory and research to practical application. Journal of Sport Psychology in Action, 3(3), 159-170, DOI: 10.1080/21520704.2011.653047

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