There’s truly nothing more fulfilling than being part of a team that functions as a well-oiled machine. We all know that the value of being on a team transcends wins and losses; between all the long bus rides and team gatherings are adversity-defying moments, character-building experiences, and budding friendships, all of which can serve as puzzle pieces that shape an athlete’s life for decades to come.

The dynamics of a team can truly shape lives…a vehicle for culture, growth, and learning.

Yet in a puzzle, no one piece looks the same…but they all play a critical role in creating a rock-solid final product. The same can be said for the dynamic of a team.

It’s important for athletes to understand the dynamic of their team…their relationship with teammates and coaches, if they feel that their voice is heard, and that their worth is valued as a human being…not just an athlete.

All of that and plenty more is measured by team support.

Team Support, What is it? 

Think of team support like a village; each person in the village presents an opportunity to support an athlete both on and off the field.

“Team support includes the community in which you surround yourself within a team environment,” Premier’s McKenzie Bromback says. “It measures how (those people in your team environment) contribute to your overall mental health and wellness but also performance. Team support can come from teammates, but also from coaches, parents, athletic trainers, and anyone who’s within the community of your team or athletic organization.”

Team support looks different for each person in that community; a trainer could provide physical and emotional support for an athlete with a difficult injury while a senior captain could provide emotional and mental support for a freshman on the college soccer team who has moved from across the country.

Whether it’s a coach staying after practice to work on a jump shot with a player or a parent consoling an athlete after a heartbreaking loss, team support presents itself in different ways…and comes from different people.

“One thing that is incredibly important to know about team support is that not everyone is going to give you the same kind of support,” Bromback says. “Maybe you don’t feel super comfortable being vulnerable about your emotions and mental health to a coach, but maybe there’s another coach or captain of the team that you feel comfortable having that conversation with.”

It’s critical that there’s someone in an organization for athletes to chat with about mental health and emotions; yet just because one coach isn’t that person doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re not contributing to an athlete’s support system in a different way.

“On the other hand, that athlete may know that they can get great constructive feedback from that certain coach and that feedback can support their athletic performance,” Bromback says. “Understanding how different people in your team’s community can give you support in different ways is critical.”

A delicious three-course meal isn’t complete with just a Caesar salad and breadstick; it needs eloquent dressing, a delicious steak, roasted potatoes, some fresh fruit, and a scrumptious slice of chocolate cake to make it complete.

Are all the items tasty by themselves? For sure. Yet they truly complete the best possible experience when they’re placed together as a meal.

Team support is the same; an athlete needs support from all different angles and areas of life to be successful in a team setting.

Team Support in Action for an Athlete

An athlete’s level of team support can be showcased through positive and negative experiences, here are a few examples and hypotheticals to help gauge what both positive and negative team support can look like…they might just resonate with you.

The Good

  • Athletes with strong team support feel as if their voice is valued and heard by teammates and coaches, regardless of whether they’re an All-Conference starter or a bench player that receives minimal playing time.  For example, third-string quarterback Richie may spend most of his time on the bench but feels confident going to his coaches and starting quarterback when he notices a unique defensive scheme that their opponent is running because he knows they value his thoughts and will take them into consideration.
  • Winning is fun, but athletes are first and foremost human beings, regardless of outcomes. Athletes who feel strong team support know that they’ll always be valued as more than an athlete, even during competition. Perhaps Susie is going through a difficult situation at home and has a tough game on the field. Her teammates and coaches know this and instead of focusing on the outcome of her performance, they prioritize her human needs, checking in with her and providing emotional support.  This rings true in difficult situations but also applies to positive and neutral ones as well. Even if Jackie is a three-time national champion, her worth as a human being should always be at the forefront of her identity to her teammates and coaches. Athletes are human.
  • Being a part of a team provides opportunities for meaningful relationships. Athletes who experience excellent team support feel a strong connection to their teammates, coaches, and can communicate openly with them because of it. Perhaps Dana is confused about certain play during practice and wants to understand it better. Because she has formed a strong connection as an athlete and human with those in her environment, she’s comfortable admitting that she needs a little extra help and clarification.

The Bad

  • Being the new person in an environment is never easy…it’s even more difficult when you’re not welcomed into the group in a way that acknowledges that you’re new. Athletes with little team support feel a disconnect between themselves and their teammates and coaches. This could originate from a negative experience or lack of inclusivity from the beginning.Doug is a junior in college and just transferred to a new school to play on the tennis team. Instead of welcoming him to the team, inviting him to team gatherings, and getting him up to speed, Doug’s teammates assume he is fine and carry on with business as they did last year. In addition, Doug’s new coach chews him out on the first day of practice before evening getting to know him as a person.Given the sequence of events, Doug now feels like he’s on an island compared to his teammates and is intimidated to go to his coach for advice because of the negative experience.
  • Again, winning is fun, but it shouldn’t determine how an athlete is perceived as a human by his or her teammates and coaches. Athletes with little team support often feel as if their worth and value on the team is based primarily on results.Lindsey had a great start to her track season but has struggled to maintain those results throughout the course of the year. As her results have declined, she’s noticed that her teammates are talking to her less and that her coach doesn’t provide compliments or feedback to her like they were earlier in the season. For Lindsey, this creates the perception that because she is struggling in competition, her value and worth on the team is less important than other runners who are succeeding.

Tips for Athletes to Improve Team Support

No one person is responsible for meeting every single need that comprises high-quality team support. It takes a village of resources and relationships to foster team support that allows an athlete to flourish.

Yet by helping fill one piece of the puzzle, you can help your entire team environment work towards strong team support for all parties involved. Here are a few ways how.

  • DO model the type of culture that you want to be a part of…regardless of your role on the team. “How you act in a team setting is really important for athletes,” Bromback says. “I tell my athletes that if you want to be a part of great culture and have great team support, you need to model that in your own behavior.”That could mean a senior leader taking time to provide advice to new freshmen on the team, or even helping them navigate life outside of practice. It could be a freshman showing up and working hard at practice while also asking questions to upper class student-athletes. Athletes and Student-Athletes don’t have to be assigned captains to demonstrate positive leadership, both vocally and by example
  • DON’T be afraid to talk and learn from individuals who are new to the team or differ from you. Healthy team environments are often composed of individuals from all walks of life but succeed because team members work together in a constructive way through a common goal of creating a successful, healthy, and collaborative environment.
  • DO create a list of things that are within your control, and things that are not. “You can’t control how your coach behaves, but you do have control over how you act,” Bromback says.A staple in many corners of sport and life, controlling the controllables can be especially impactful for team support. You may not be able to control a coach benching you or a teammate acting poorly, but you can control how you respond to those experiences, and choose behaviors that enable or enhance team support.
  • DON’T feel like your entire worth to the team is based on playing time or results on the field. A strong team culture takes everyone and even those who don’t touch the field as often can play a vital role in helping a team improve.
  • DO check in on teammates as humans, not just athletes. A simple conversation of ‘hey how are you doing today?’ can go a long way in helping a teammate realize that their true self is valued on the team. 
  • DO provide compliments and ideas to teammates during practice, games, and off the field. A simple compliment can go a long way in building confidence and embodying self-worth.

This article is part four of a five-part series from Premier’s Research and Analytics division on unlocking personal performance potential.  Stay tuned for part five.  Read part 1 here.  Read part 2 here.  Read part 3 here.