With a past as a former collegiate and professional athlete and a present as an athletic trainer, I’m no stranger to team dynamics. I’ve seen a wide spectrum when it comes to teams, and throughout it all I’ve noticed a pattern: A healthy hockey team means a winning hockey team. Here are the characteristics they all share.
Nothing undermines team chemistry more than deceit and dishonesty. The key to any healthy relationship is the ability to communicate clearly and effectively. Hockey teams are full of complex relationships, thus truthful communication will help a team develop healthy team dynamics.
The coach or captain is the most important cog in this communication vortex. Although difficult at times, honesty is always the best policy when dealing with tough issues like playing time, tryouts, and players’ roles on the team. Players can choose to disagree with the content of the captain’s communication, but if he or she has reliably communicated the truth to all parties involved, his or her credibility will remain intact, and team culture will remain healthy.
A counterfeit will always be exposed. Captains and players owe a level of transparency to one another when they make the decision to function as a collective unit.
I have a personal example of how transparency can undermine trust. I was on a team where the coach told us our captain would be selected by a team vote. After the votes were counted and the captain was named, it was clear that the coach had already decided who was going to be captain and the votes had little input on the decision. The problem was not that the coach shouldn’t have the ability pick a captain, but that the entire process lacked transparency. If the coach had told us from the outset that he alone was going to pick the captain, this kind of transparency—even if the players didn’t agree on the process—would have not led us to believe our votes had an impact on the decision, and our trust in the coach wouldn’t have been compromised.
In short, transparency builds trust, and trust is essential to a healthy hockey team.
Over the course of the season, players must learn to trust in their captain’s leadership, and a captain must learn to trust in their player’s character. Having a foundation of mutual respect means when the inevitable storms of a season arrive (losing games, injuries, squabbles, etc.) the team is able to survive the challenge because players trust and respect each other.
The deep-seated belief that everyone on the team has the group’s best interest at heart is a powerful sedative against the craziness of a season. The best teams learn to insulate themselves against the outside influences that would seek to destroy their chemistry and pull them apart.
Trust grows out of transparency and truthfulness, and it’s the cement by which healthy teams are built. Sports have the rare ability to expose our deficiencies and grow our character, which forces a team to either create a bond of trust or allow personal shortcomings to divide the team. Team togetherness and trust are two of a few things that you have complete control over. The season provides the time and context for teams to learn to trust each other and come together, or splinter as individuals. The captain sets the tone for this process, but the players do the heavy lifting.
Ultimately, trust depends on the character, consistency, and selflessness of everyone involved. What type of culture will your team create?
Quinn McDowell is a writer, trainer, and professional athlete. He has played in the NBA D-League, Australia, and Spain following his four-year career at the College of William and Mary. He is the founder of AreteHoops.com and desires to see coaches and players succeed with excellence. He currently resides in Palencia, Spain, with his wife Lindsey. Published by permission of TeamSnap.