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Keeping teams happy: Should I treat players equally or fairly?

A rugby scrum

Different things can add up in different ways whilst reaching an identical solution, just as ‘eleven plus two’ forms an anagram of ‘twelve plus one’ (Margot Gleave, A Classical Education)

Teams are dynamic entities that change as the team develops (Moran & Toner, 2017). But what is a team? It is a collection of two or more individuals with a common identity, a shared purpose, who interact with, and depend upon, each other (Carron & Brawley, 2008). And popularly, people believe that a team’s spirit is far greater than the sum of its parts. If the latter is true, then pursuing cohesion seems a most sensible plan. From the research papers, we see that with greater team cohesion; we feel better, work harder, know our job on the team, feel less anxious and give more to the cause. The synchrony needed to respond to the challenges of another competitive team means we need to know our team first. We need to know our skill sets, our preferences, our habits, and our feelings to accommodate them in the team. Knowing ourselves brings our resources into focus so we know what we have for any challenge ahead.  

Treat players fairly

Coaches and managers often agonise between treating team members equally and treating team members fairly. The two terms seem similar, yet there are differences. Treating all team members equally means recognising their contributions and responsibilities to the team while treating them fairly means offering them roles and asking them to assume responsibilities that match their skill sets and abilities while recognising their contribution to the team effort. In short, the coach treats the players equally and the players earn fair treatment for their efforts. In this vein, players earn their starting position. They earn a day off. They earn the trust of the management and their team.


Carron, A. V., & Brawley, L. R. (2008) Group dynamics in sport and physical activity. In T. S. Horn (Eds.) Advances in sport psychology (3rd ed., pp. 213–237). Human Kinetics.

Gleave, M. (A Classical Education). In Colin Dexter, the remorseful day (Inspector Morse Series Book 13) (p. 263). Pan Macmillan.

Moran, A. P., & Toner, J. (2017). A critical introduction to sport psychology. Taylor and Francis.

Statler, T. (2010) Developing a shared identity/vision: Benefits and pitfalls. In S. J. Hanrahan, and M. B. Andersen (eds) Routledge handbook of applied sport psychology (pp. 325–334). Routledge.


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