Is "TEAM" a Four-Letter Word? "Losing Tends to Exacerbate Conflicts That May Be Simmering, but Remain Dormant While a Team Is Enjoying Success." (Athletic Arena)

Article excerpt

FOR MANY PEOPLE, memories of team experiences are positive ones. For others, though, they bring "four-letter words" to mind.

The word "team" can be defined (Webster's Unabridged Dictionary) as "a number of persons associated in some joint action, esp. one of the sides in a game or contest." This definition doesn't come close, however, to capturing the richness and complexities involved in team sports. One of the fascinating aspects of athletics is the variety of individual skills and personality differences involved in the working of teams.

Although children and adults are doing many things individually these days, from surfing the net to watching television, there are probably more leagues and teams--amateur and professional--across a variety of sports than ever before.

In Philadelphia, to pick just one example, there are numerous examples of ways in which individual players can affect a team's chemistry. The concept of team chemistry is a nebulous one, and sports psychologists prefer to talk about team cohesion, which can be defined as the set of forces that act upon members of the team to help them reach a common goal. Why do individuals want to be a member of a team? In some cases, they may not act as one would hope or expect.

A classic case in point is National Basketball Association Most Valuable Player Allen Iverson of the Philadelphia 76ers and his ongoing tense relationship with coach Larry Brown. Although many of these conflicts were toned down as Iverson led his club to the NBA finals in 2001, he has had an extensive record of lateness. During the 1999-2000 season, he missed a number of practices, which resulted in his being suspended for a game. Brown, with a long record of success at the collegiate and professional levels, expects his players to be on time and attend practices as well as games--hardly a radical idea. Iverson, however, has apparently not yet bought into this philosophy. Perhaps he feels that superstars should be allowed to follow their own rules. Iverson's teammates have encouraged him to act professionally in coming to practices and games on time, but he has largely ignored their pleas, though his actions have not impacted on his outstanding performance.

Coaches often say there is no "I" in team (although there are the letters for the word "me"!). This saying is predicated on the importance given to team cohesion. This can be seen as being comprised of two dimensions: task and social cohesion. According to Robert S. Weinberg and Daniel Gould, in Foundations of Sport and Exercise Psychology, task cohesion "reflects the degree to which members of a group work together to achieve common goals." These goals are often winning a game or a championship. However, they could also focus on a particular accomplishment, such as running a race in a specific time or performing in an error-free manner during a game.

Social cohesion "reflects the degree to which members of a team like each other and enjoy each other's company," Weinberg and Gould suggest. Some clubs have players who hang out with each other before and after games, socialize, and go to dinner together. Others have members who come to practices and games from their separate lives, then depart afterwards, not socializing or interacting much at all outside the (task-oriented) work environment.

There are, of course, many factors that affect social cohesion--marital status, whether one has children, etc. A player would, of course, be less likely to socialize with teammates if he or she had a family to return to than if that individual were single and his or her friends might be found among one's teammates.

Is social cohesion necessary for success, with success being defined as being a winning team? The answer is no. There are many cases, some as famous as the New York Yankees and Oakland Athletics of the 1970s, where social cohesion was low. Conflicts among teammates, and with management, may have made for low social cohesion, but those teams were quite successful, winning a combined five World Series. …