Coaching Football's "Little Things"

Developing a Consistently Successful Football Program

Group Dynamics, Part 3

Posted by admin June - 5 - 2012 - Tuesday

I was in Washington, D.C. with my family last week doing the sightseeing thing. If you ever go there to tour, make sure you take the “DC Duck” ride that starts at Union Station… fabulous adventure!

For a leader of any group (not just football coaches), I hope you’ve discovered that an understanding and appreciation for what “makes your players/employees tick” is critical to the success of your team/group. I pointed out in an earlier post that with my background in Psychology, I thought that you deal with the individual and you’ll be able to solve most every problem. What this Marine Corps book has shown me is: you’d better have an understanding of group dynamics (some would call it Sociology as opposed to Psychology) as well.

We’ll define Group Dynamics as “those forces that result from the interaction of group members among themselves and between the group and the environment in which the group exists.” Internal dynamics are those forces within the group and external dynamics arise from interaction of the group with its environment. First, internal dynamics.

Two key factors in internal group dynamics are 1- communication and 2- participation patterns. I’ll talk about communication today.

Communication within the group is essential for effective group functioning. Communication is the primary process of group dynamics. No coordination nor cooperation can be achieved without communication. In a group there needs to be an open channel of communication. The leader must be at the center of the communication network. KEY: he needs to be in a position where he can not only direct communication downward but also receive communication coming up from the group. A leader needs feedback. Subordinates need to feel that they have a “voice” in what transpires in the group. If communication from members of the group is encouraged, many good ideas will originate from the people who are in the best position to recommend changes. This, in turn, will increase efficiency. I always meet with my seniors after the season is completed and ask for their feedback. Now that their eligibility is used up, they are more apt to speak freely about their experience in my football program. Meet with them in a group. This will provide an air of civility that might not be evident if you meet one-on-one. I always came away with a couple of suggestions for how I could improve the program or the way that I coached. Don’t be afraid of constructive criticism. It may sound crazy, but I asked my seniors how I could improve as a coach.

Yes, upward communication means that subordinates are going to “let off steam” at times. I learned that it’s OK for assistant coaches or even players to come in and express a gripe or complaint. They need to know that you will provide a “listening ear” to their concerns. I instructed them that IF you have a problem, I want to hear it. However, I learned from a very wise and successful coach… don’t bring a complaint without also bringing a solution. Gripe sessions can go on forever and accomplish nothing if you don’t tell people that you don’t want to hear just the problem— you want their recommendation of a solution too.

Another important communication pattern within a group is what is known as the “grapevine.” It refers to the unofficial information that is passed among the members of the group. You can try to curtail it but that won’t stop it. People simply like to gossip! The information bantered about “at the water cooler” or the lunchroom consists of a combination of facts and rumors. Surprisingly, studies of the grapevine has shown that the information communicated is highly accurate and reliable! This is due to the fact that the information is passed along among friends so it is received in an atmosphere of trust.

KEY: Rather than look at the grapevine as a nuisance, a smart leader should use it to the advantage of effective group communication. Listening to the gossip can show him who the potential leaders and/or trouble-makers are. The leader can use the grapevine to disseminate messages that might be better received in the informal atmosphere of the locker room than a called team meeting. Use the grapevine to your advantage!

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