Austria     Belgium     Brazil     Canada     Denmark     Finland     France     Germany     Hungary     Iceland     Ireland     Italy     Luxembourg     The Netherlands     Norway     Poland     Spain     Sweden     Switzerland     UK     USA     

Castles by Ants – Episode 26: Basics of Teambuilding

An ongoing series about psychology in the world of sport.

Applying psychological system knowledge usually starts during player selection because everybody aims to build the best team possible. Up until 20 years ago, most teams began this process based almost entirely on professional skills. Point-blank: the best player in each position needed to be on the team. The biggest filter was perhaps the head coach’s opinion about whether someone was a sympathetic character, and based on this information, the selection framework came together. However, this factor was largely based on personality typing, since coaches tended to prefer players that shared their own typing. Still, this was not considered a professional psychological screening. There were sports where psychological approaches were used earlier than others, but with few exceptions, coaches mostly considered them amusing. Attitudes have changed — and we have already discussed what led to this change — but the takeaway is that that today, most elite coaches use psychological systems, and this promises to be an enduring trend in team sports!

The first element of teambuilding the decision regarding the direction of the team. It is usually made by the team’s management, club director, or the professional management experts. We can choose from two options if we would like to start professional work. We have to decide what we consider the foundation: what points will be treated as baselines? What can these points be: the personality type of the head coach, the team’s current selection framework, or the core players of the current team? You thought that this question is not that critical? Yes, a lot of people think like that, and most teambuilding processes fail because of this! You can see that this has nothing to do with psychology, right? It should be clear that, although psychological methods and knowledge are needed later on, now we are talking about pure strategy, in which a psychologist has no hand! This is a mentor’s job! Just like in business! The company executive or owner asks for the mentor’s advice when making a strategic decision about the company. Once the basics of the strategy are already in place, then key people can be involved! Then come the next steps, nice and slow! The exact problem with teambuilding methods is that sports psychologists had no place at this point in the process. However, when they were finally brought into the fold, there were too many fixed points for the sports psychology to have any discernible effect. Realising this problem, sports professionals turned to advisers, since advisers already understand strategy and can include psychological elements from the beginning! What exactly am I talking about? The best way to explain this process is via a national football team, since the number of available players is limited. There won’t be a completely new set of quality centre-backs, goalkeepers, or strikers coming up in 1-2 years. During any given period, each national team has an “elite core”, who are considered their country’s best. Of course, this can be change for a position or two, but it’s unusual to completely refresh the team. So, when there are 4-5 stars on a national team, without whom there is no national team, then surely a head coach has to work well with this core. What does it mean from a psychological perspective? We have to analyse their personalities and find a coach whose personality complements with this core.

In most cases, unfortunately, national federations select the “best” coaches based only on past results and impose those coaches on a team, but this doesn’t always lead to success. There are exceptions, of course, most notably when the personality of the new head coach is far from that of the players, but the coach happens to be a very high-level Expert. This only works because players usually accept the professional with real, deep knowledge, regardless of their personality type. But for example, hiring a mid-level Expert coach for a fully Individual team doesn’t bode well, because it won’t make sense in the long run for the coach to force the players into a system. It functions well enough in the beginning, despite the stress it causes, but after following the coach’s instructions for a while, the players eventually lose focus, and after a period, these players leave the national team for various reasons or are replaced by the coach. Had we hired an Individual coach for them, they may have performed incredibly well. But only once or twice, since there would be no system so they wouldn’t be able to maintain their newfound momentum!

A successful coach-team personality connection
A successful coach-team personality connection

An unsuccessful/short-term coach-team pairing
An unsuccessful/short-term coach-team pairing


Prev episode

Castles by Ants – Episode 25: One-way Personalities