In team sports, “identity” is an important and influential factor to anybody, and everybody associated with the team. Everything from youth sports all the way up to professional teams have athletes, coaches, parents and fans all who proudly associate themselves with the team for a variety of reasons and motivations. Team Identity is an important part of team sports, from sharing victories, defeats, team cheers, colors, mascots, inside jokes and culture all come together to represent who and what the “team” is.
Rather than being the sum of its parts, every athlete, coach, parent and fan associated with the team help make the team greater than the sum of its parts and contribute to its identity. Rather than cogs in a machine, each individual is a bird in the flock. The identity of the team is shaped and influenced by every single element associated with it. A “team” for all intents and purposes, is a complex adaptive system.
At the 1980 Winter Olympics, Team USA went up against the Soviet Union in one of the nation’s most chair gripping, thrilling hockey matches ever seen on American television. The Team USA underdogs going against the brute force dominant Soviet hockey team that had won every Olympic gold medal in the four previous Olympics. Anybody who has seen the movie “Miracle” knows the story of course. What made this hockey match different than all the other matches wasn’t the extension of the Cold War into a proxy on ice, nor was it the indomitable spirit of a bunch of rag tag college kids that played for the first time only seven months prior. It came down to the team organization and playing style lead by head coach Herb Brooks that took Team USA to a gold medal. So, how did he do it?
What is coaching? Coaching is teaching, coaching is training, coaching is managing, coaching is growth and development, coaching is so much more than can fit in the five letters that spell “coach.” Athletes look up to their coach for guidance, leadership, mentorship. Coaches look to their athletes for drive, motivation and a will to learn. It’s a relationship that helps both athlete and coach grow within their athletic, professional and personal lives. Yet, the intra and interpersonal complexities of coaching exist within each interaction, decision and observation that represents the fluidic nature of the activity are not always well understood.
Understanding the complexities of coaching from a social cognitive perspective starts with an examination of the limitations in our current reductionist approaches to coaching and a reconsideration of our own internal schemas; our biases that represent the structure of our ability to think, analyze and understand the ambiguous and personal aspects of coaching. This way we can understand the context and constraints that influence our behavior and how we can manage these behaviors to improve our own coaching capabilities.
Coach Dirk, CSCS, is a performance coach, teacher, writer, journalist, and athlete who is currently studying for his Masters Degree in sports psychology at the Deutsche Sporthochschule Köln. He brings over 10 years of experience as a coach, athlete, personal trainer, fitness instructor, and sports psychologist to drive athletes to build their own self efficacy and express themselves through sport.