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Coach speaking to athlete during a game

Whether people are baseball fanatics or just Brad Pitt fans, they’ve most likely seen the film Moneyball. It’s based on the true story of Billy Beane, the former General Manager of the Oakland A’s in Major League Baseball (MLB). Beane changed sport recruitment forever with his use of statistics to scout talent, choose players, and establish a winning team.

The concept of looking at athletes for more than their physical capabilities is critical for sport organizations, since a group is only as strong as the individuals in it and how they work together. That perspective led to a new form of team development. Instead of statistics, development focuses on an athlete’s characteristics to build a winning team.

This blog will help coaches identify, select and integrate athletes with complementary skills and characteristics that improve team dynamics.

Step 1: Identifying relevant human capital

Coach Of Female High School Basketball Team Gives Team TalkSome teams can’t perform well because they simply lack the qualities and characteristics required for success, also known as human capital. We describe human capital as an athlete’s knowledge, skill, and abilities. These can be broken into task-specific proficiencies such as fitness and creativity, and interpersonal skills such as conversational skills, emotional intelligence, and character.

When measuring draft effectiveness in the National Football League (NFL), researchers found that organizational insiders (for example, coaches and managers) were more accurate in predicting eventual athlete success than outsiders such as draft-ranking officials. Unlike outsiders, the insiders placed a greater emphasis on contextual information such as work ethic and organizational citizenship behaviour, demonstrating their desire to select the right people for their organization (Whiting & Maynes, 2016).

Head coach Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs, a National Basketball Association (NBA) team, looks for more than skill. He stated that he purposefully looked for character and a sense of humor, characteristics that led him to draft Tim Duncan, arguably one of the greatest power forwards of all time (Jon Finkel, 2015). Identifying what qualities and characteristics fit best within a team is critical to the achievement of group success.

Step 2: Selecting the right people (for your organization)

A skate coach teaching his athleteSport researchers emphasize the importance of selecting people that align with a team’s vision and culture. A case study involved the motivational climate of the All Blacks, New Zealand’s men’s national rugby team, in its theme “Better People Make Better All Blacks.” That team’s former Head Coach Graham Henry believed that selecting players based on behaviour (as well as rugby ability) helped identify smart players who were good decision-makers on the field (Hodge et al., 2014). Several elite basketball coaches such as Mike Krzyzewski (Olympic champion, NCAA) and John Wooden (NCAA) have emphasized better people development as a central aspect of their coaching philosophy.

This tactic can also weed out toxic players who won’t contribute to team success, and may even detract from it. Sport psychology practitioners have previously noted that selfish behaviour, poor body language, and poor parental behaviour are undesirable player attributes. These attributes can be destructive to performance and team dynamics (Guenter et al., 2019).

The question of how to identify character is a developing field in sport and requires further quantitative measurements. For now, coaches shouldn’t default to simply picking the best athletes. Rather, coaches should find ways that will help them choose athletes who demonstrate behaviours that align with the desired norms for their team, like work ethic and prosocial behaviours.

Step 3: Integrating teammates

A coach and his players during a timeoutAfter identifying the desired type of athlete and strategies to choose them, it’s imperative to integrate and socialize the athlete into the team. The concept of socialization is defined as the process through which individuals adjust to the demands and responsibilities of a new group (Bauer et al., 2007).

When examining socialization tactics used to integrate new members into Canadian U Sports teams, both coaches and athletes expressed the importance of an institutionalized approach. This approach includes harmonizing role expectations between the coach and athlete, balancing newcomers’ need for conformity and individuality, having shared experiences, providing formal learning opportunities, and involving veterans in the process (Benson et al., 2016). Integrating these aspects resulted in increases in self-efficacy, perceived fit, job satisfaction and intentions to remain, along with decreases in role ambiguity, all of which are key aspects to a successful team.

Recommendations for coaches

There are several ways that coaches can identify, select, and integrate members into a team. Here are a few examples to get you started.

Step 1: Identify relevant human capital

  • Have athletes bring parents or guardians to meetings and tryouts. Observe how they communicate and interact with those close to them, as this could reflect how they’ll act with their teammates.
  • Look beyond physical attributes and place a greater emphasis on athlete competencies and behaviours, such as do the athletes clean-up after themselves, help teammates, show up on time.

Step 2: Selecting the right people

  • Get athletes to complete an AthleteDISC profile. It reveals significant insights into an athlete’s behaviour, such as highlighting personal strengths and making recommendations to address development opportunities. This could provide insight by helping you see if they’re a “fit” for your program.

Step 3: Integrating teammates

  • Focus on integrating an institutionalized approach by:
    • Establishing and maintaining clear role expectations for new team members and returning players.
    • Providing frequent group-oriented activities and peer interactions to provide athletes with many opportunities to connect socially with others (for example, a board game night).
    • Establishing expectations early on to minimize confusion and misinterpretation of team-related policies and rules.
    • Relying on veterans to help newcomers integrate new knowledge and fill-in any gaps.
    • Balancing the newcomers’ need for conformity and individuality.

So what?

As seen in Moneyball, sport goes way beyond the X’s and O’s. It’s your role as a coach to build a successful team, not just a team of talented athletes. By identifying, selecting and integrating the right people for your team, you could also turn a struggling organization into a championship-caliber team.


About the Author(s)

Michelle Istead is a 5th-year Kinesiology student at Queen’s University. She’s a member of the Queen’s Women’s Basketball team and she’s a physiotherapy assistant at Health in Focus Sports Injury and Rehab, in Kingston, Ontario. Michelle aspires to work in pediatric occupational therapy to help children and youth maximize their independence.

Luc Martin, Ph.D., is an associate professor in the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies at Queen’s University. His research interests lie in the areas of positive youth development and team dynamics in sport. Co-author Michelle Istead completed this blog post as an assignment for Dr. Martin’s KNPE 363 Team Dynamics course.

References

Benson, A. J., Evans, M. B., & Eys, M. A. (2016). Organizational socialization in team sport environments. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, 26(4), 463–473.

Bauer, T., Bodner, T., Erdogan, B., Truxillo, D., & Tucker, J. (2007). Newcomer Adjustment during Organizational Socialization: A Meta-Analytic Review of Antecedents, Outcomes, and Methods. The Journal of Applied Psychology, 92, 707–721.

Finkel, J. (2015). Forces of Character: A conversation with Gregg Popovich. HoopsHype.

Guenter, R. W., Dunn, J. G. H., & Holt, N. L. (2019). Talent Identification in Youth Ice Hockey: Exploring “Intangible” Player Characteristics. The Sport Psychologist, 33(4), 323–333.

Hodge, K., Henry, G., & Smith, W. (2014). A Case Study of Excellence in Elite Sport: Motivational Climate in a World Champion Team. The Sport Psychologist, 28(1), 60–74.

Whiting, S. W., & Maynes, T. D. (2016). Selecting team players: Considering the impact of contextual performance and workplace deviance on selection decisions in the National Football League. Journal of Applied Psychology, 101(4), 484–497.


The information presented in SIRC blogs and SIRCuit articles is accurate and reliable as of the date of publication. Developments that occur after the date of publication may impact the current accuracy of the information presented in a previously published blog or article.