Be a team builder! 8 Team Building Activities
A study in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology found that there are three effective categories of team building activities: physical, psychological, and social. When combined, these three types of activities can foster trust, cohesion, motivation, mutual encouragement, communication, adaptability, self-organization, positive attitude and more.
Before we begin, it is important to understand that team building is a process. Think of team building as a season-long experience and attitude, not a singular event. Even after a team building activity has ended, the team should be reminded of the lessons and values they learned and experienced. This is especially true when the team follows through in a game. Praising and recognizing the application of their team building skills will go a long way toward maintaining momentum.
Let’s look at physical team building activities first.
Physical Team Building Activities
These activities are designed to get the players active while working on their teamwork skills like communication, collaboration and adaptability.
Humans vs. Zombies
This game has been used for pure fun on college campuses, but it’s also been used on military bases and even in the corporate world to “create deep bonds between players, instantly removing social boundaries by forcing players to engage as equals and cooperate for their survival.”
The team is split up into two groups, the majority of players starting out as humans and a few starting as a smaller group of zombies. The humans must work together to avoid zombie encounters. The zombies, of course, must coordinate “attacks” that use balled up socks to turn the humans into the “undead.” The humans can also use socks to “stun” the zombies. This activity is best suited to a wide outdoor space with good concealment opportunities.
Some of the core skills the players will be working on with this activity are self-organization of the team, leadership, communication, nonverbally planned movements, adaptability and cooperation. Players will also have to learn how to adapt to a new team dynamic when they lose their human leader or are forced to join the zombie team.
You can try this one out yourself by checking out the official HVZ website at www.humansvszombies.org and familiarizing yourself with the rules, or you can come up with your own rules. However you play, the game is essentially like the traditional game of tag, and the goal is to constantly change up the team dynamic while physically dodging the enemy. Unlike the movies, these zombies are allowed to run at top speed when they’re not stunned by socks!
Adding Complexity to Your Current Drills
The possibilities are unlimited when you add additional rules to your current sport-specific drill practices. Plus, you can incorporate several team-building and skill-testing activities into one. Consider adding some rules like the following:
Two Feet Rule
A team of two players must finish a task like carrying a bucket of water with only two of their four feet on the ground. There are a lot of interesting ways to accomplish this, and this is an especially good one for two players who are not getting along very well. This rule forces the players to listen to their partner, decide together on an approach, test new ideas, and complete with follow-through.
This one was developed by the Central Loudoun Youth Football League.
An obstacle must be completed while blindfolded*. This can be a “mine field” setup that requires the blindfolded player to avoid touching random objects on the ground, or it can be a setup that requires the player to complete a complicated task. One or more teammates help guide the player to a successful finish. To do this, the blindfolded player must trust his teammates and be able to carefully follow directions. The other teammates, meanwhile, must be able to express their directions clearly and may end up choosing to establish a spokesperson.
For an added level of difficulty, consider having only one teammate guide the blindfolded player while the rest try to distract or confuse him or her. This adds the extra lesson of focused listening and being able to “tune out” the competition or other distracting noise.
Make sure the obstacle area is clear of anything like poles, bodies of water, and other obvious dangers. Also make sure any “mines” used will not cause the player to stub a toe or trip. Try to used pillows, stuffed animals, towels, or other soft objects.
If the players are going solo during their pushups, squats, burpees and other exercises, consider adding a team relay component. Divide the team into smaller groups and have them compete against each other. You can add a sprinting relay in which one player is sprinting while the other members of the 4-player teams are doing a bodyweight exercise. Or try giving them a list of tasks and/or exercises they need to complete in a limited amount of time, and allow them to strategize based on their teammates’ strengths and weaknesses. The team who totals the most reps in total wins.
You can also try a rotation relay in which players are constantly rotating positions. This familiarizes them with the need to move quickly, adapt to their new position, and work together as a well-oiled machine. Throw in a change and see how quickly the whole team can get themselves up to speed.
Check out this example form the Vanderbilt University baseball team:
This tip inspired by Bootcamp Alliance.
When it comes to physical team building activities, the possibilities are endless. They can be closely related to your sport, or they can be general skills training, like an obstacle course.
For more ideas like this, check out our article on Team Building Activities for Kids and our piece on Team Building Activities for Teens.
Psychological Team Building Activities
These activities are used to make a point about the trust, confidence and effective communication skills needed to make a successful, cohesive unit.
This activity is meant to foster a positive attitude and a trustworthy team environment.
First, know that there are 2 reasons group brainstorming can fail to achieve its potential:
- Talking over one another
- Fear of criticism or rejection
The goal of the green light exercise is to solve a complex or controversial problem using only positive language. Divide the team into small groups, or leave them as one large group for an extra challenge. The rules include that everyone must contribute an idea first, and then the team must negotiate the best way to solve the problem. In order to encourage open communication, anyone who talks over another person or who criticizes or acts negatively (rolling eyes, laughing inappropriately, etc.) is removed from the group or given a penalty like 10 pushups.
The team must learn to self-police and enforce the rules on removing negativity, and they must work together to come up with a way to avoid talking over each other. Some players like to use the standby “whoever is holding the water bottle gets to talk.” The shyer group members must learn to have faith in their team sticking up for them, while the more vocally opinionated members must learn to have respect for others’ ideas.
This idea inspired by IncBlot.
This activity helps the team work on collaborative communication, problem-solving and a team establishment of values. You can use this one after the Green Light activity if you want to make a negativity-free environment.
For this activity, make a list of 20 or more “tools” that could be useful on a deserted island. (For extra challenge, do not give any list at all.) Imagine the team is on a fast-sinking ship and must choose only 10 items to take on the lifeboat. Have the team discuss and decide what they would take and why. You can split the team up into smaller groups and set a time limit, then have each team explain their choices.
At the end, have them use the same process to decide as a team on 10 “tools” they must use to be successful, including things like showing up on time, not backbiting or gossiping about their teammates, etc. Remind them that these 10 tools will help the team survive anything. The team will be inspired when they recall that they chose the tools themselves and know how and why they can help them survive.
Hit the Mark
Choose one player to be the center of this activity. Tape a poster high on a wall and give the player a marker. The object is to jump and place a mark as high as possible. Have the player continue to do this until he or she thinks she cannot place the mark any higher. After the player gives up, tell the team they must help the player to get even higher. They cannot touch the player or give him or her objects to stand on, but their encouragement and suggestions are welcome. In nearly every case, the player will be able to get the mark higher after having given up.
This activity shows the power of team encouragement and helpful advice as a factor of individual success. When the team backs a person, cheers them on and believes in them, that person will do better than they thought they could.
This tip is from OnlineExpert.com.
Social Team Building Activities
These activities are meant for relaxation and socialization. Players that are more intimately familiar with each other outside of the competitive setting will be able to form closer bonds and thus improve teamwork skills such as understanding and empathy.
Try a Different Sport or Activity
Have a day off from training with a pick-up game just for fun. Throwing the players outside of their specialty will help them learn to adapt while still having a good time. You don’t have to choose another conventional sport, although that can certainly provide an added challenge. Consider going bowling, playing wiffle ball or learning how to play “cornhole” or “bags.” While the games will probably still be competitive, try to keep a fun, relaxed atmosphere. The goal here is to play hard after working hard, which helps the team bond.
Doing community service projects can have several benefits for team building. For one, it can keep the team together during the off-season. Two, the team will have an opportunity to establish a positive public image. A third benefit, according to United Way, is the general sense of well-being, happiness and improved attitude that accompanies volunteer work. Volunteers also report boosted self-esteem and self-confidence. For kids in high school, volunteering can help establish their resume for their work or college goals.
Volunteering can often use the team’s skills directly. Older kids can teach sport skills to members of the local youth league with some special one-on-one time. The team could also organize a fundraiser to work on their leadership, communication and organization skills. Think outside the box and find out what your local community needs.
(For more ideas on how to volunteer together, check out our article “Community Service Ideas for Sports Team.”)
This is one of the simplest ways to get the team together in a non-competitive way. Go out for pizza or have a BBQ. Use the time to enjoy each other’s company. This has an interesting underlying effect that creates a “family” atmosphere. Eating together is, in fact, one of the team-building secrets of some of the most successful companies and corporations. Even the Google headquarters uses the benefits of social eating in order to create “a sense of community” and foster better collaboration.
Humans have bonded over food for thousands of years. The closer the bond is among the team, the better the teamwork. This is because closeness leads to understanding, empathy, trust and friendship.
Educate the Team on Hazing
Part of many teams’ “normal” social behavior is hazing. Make sure to eradicate this social behavior at the beginning of the season before it has a chance to take over. This is usually best done with a formal presentation in a serious setting. This might be one of the less fun team building activities, but it is also one of the most important.
Sometimes young athletes have a hard time letting go of the idea of these traditional practices, especially if they were subjected to hazing themselves. However, studies show that hazing is detrimental to the team. It destroys confidence in new players, discourages them from participating to their fullest, and can lead to clique-like or bully-like tendencies, both of which are terrible for a team’s success. Even if the hazing seems minor, it can take the entire season to rebuild the new players’ confidence and sense of belonging.
If you’re a coach, make sure to be educated on this topic so you can give a presentation at the beginning of the season on why hazing is prohibited. Sometimes all it takes is hearing the explanation of “why” rather than simply reciting something like, “It’s prohibited by school code.”
Explain that the psychological effects of even seemingly harmless hazing can include:
- Decrease in confidence
- Low self-esteem
- Suicidal thoughts
Note that all of these can negatively affect the team, since the team is at its best only when all of its members are performing their best individually. Hazing is just not worth the potential destruction to the team dynamic. A positive attitude will go much further in building a sense of community than any “initiation rite.”
Here are more great resources on the negative effects of hazing:
Some Final Tips for Coaches
Remember that a team is defined as “A group of people working together towards a common goal.” Always make sure the team knows what the goal is for their individual performance as well as their team performance.
However, when you begin a team building exercise, don’t give away the take-away lessons. That is, avoid standing in front and saying, “We’re going to learn about X, Y and Z now, because they can help you in the following ways…” The most powerful way to retain the core values in the activities is for the individuals and the team as a whole to figure out why they’re doing these sometimes goofy things.
Review the purpose of the activity afterwards. This can be done effectively by simply asking the group why they think they had to complete the activity. Ask them what lessons or values they learned about. Ask them how they can apply these lessons and values to their performance as a team.
Mix it up. This is especially important if you have players who have been on the team for years. You’ll need to find new activities each season to keep the older players on their toes.
Recognize when the team follows through. Did the team vocally encourage each other during a tough spot? Have they resolved an issue among themselves through effective communication? Did they warmly welcome a new player? Acknowledge this! Point out how their actions have helped the team. This kind of positive reinforcement can have a profound effect on the team’s ability to continue following through.
Also, don’t forget to check out our related articles with additional team building activity ideas for teens and kids, as well as our article on ideas for community service projects.
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