Team bonding really works


Maddy Eppard

“Chicken in the hen house,” yells cross country captain Sr. Dana Tippett. Chaos breaks out as the team runs in every direction to find their partner and act out the phrase before the time is up. Obviously, playing a simple game of chicken in the hen house has no physical value to the runners; they will not become stronger or get faster through this activity. So why is the team taking time out of practice to play a game? The answer is team bonding. Many believe close-knit teams are more successful, but is it true? And if so, why does liking the people you run with make you faster?

  Cross country coach Raeanne Hart believes there is a connection between having a unified team and being successful. Having run on teams throughout high school and college,  Hart has been on teams where having a strong team bond and supportive culture was not a priority. She said these teams struggled to receive the results they were hoping for. “We weren’t competitive, didn’t grow as a program, and we didn’t have the focus that the best teams have as individuals or the collective whole.” She said only the teams with a strong culture were able to achieve success.

  As a coach at WO, Hart places emphasis on creating a team with a strong, supportive culture. She accomplishes this through a variety of methods. “Sometimes bonding can be achieved through a hard workout where you have to rely on your teammates, or sometimes it’s a structured bonding activity that is intended to have very specific outcomes. Other times it’s simply fun, informal activities that get teammates to interact with one another in new ways that can foster a great bond. Regardless of the activity, it should have a clearly defined purpose, and it’s important for coaches and leaders to process those experiences together.”

  So, having a solid team culture and a well-bonded team helps teams grow stronger, stay focused, and achieve success. But why? It is Hart’s philosophy that to be successful, a team must unify and want to compete for one another. “Having a bond with your teammates is important because, with it, you can cultivate a shared sense of purpose and chase after some big goals. It’s hard to make sacrifices, compete for one another, and hold true to team values when you don’t value the time spent together,” Coach Hart said. When there is a strong bond with teammates, it is easier to make sacrifices and work hard because you do it together, and you do it for one another. You compete for your team and not just for yourself because you want to do good for them and accomplish the goals you have set together.

  Sr. Dana Tippett has a philosophy that mirrors Coach Hart’s. Being a part of multiple teams throughout her high school years, Tippett has had some negative team experiences. “I’ve been on a couple of teams in high school where they were extremely cliquey. I didn’t get along with a lot of my teammates and I dreaded going to practice and even games and meets. Those teams had extremely unsuccessful seasons.” Tippett believes the reason well-bonded teams are more successful has to do with feeling supported and wanting to compete for your team. “I think having a team that’s bonded is really important because it’s easy to work with people you are close to, it makes coming to practice more fun because you’re with your friends, and you want to work harder when you know you’re there to help your friends and do well with them,” Tippett said. When you like and respect the people you are with, the hard workouts seem easier because you feel supported.  

  Psychology Instructor Paul McNitt believes that having a well-bonded team leads to success because of the feeling of loyalty. When a team is close, a sense of loyalty is built. This loyalty leads to motivation to work hard to do well for the team. McNitt also thinks part of the success derives from a better team experience. When you like the people you are with and there is no tension between teammates, your team experience will be positive and, as a result, you will feel motivated. Mcnitt believes these strong team bonds can be formed best not by playing a game or engaging in an activity, but by going through hardships together.  

  When you go through hardship together, whether it be a hard workout or a struggle unrelated to the sport, you are brought closer and that unbreakable team bond can be built. A unified team and hard working team can be unstoppable.

  Jr. Sarah Olney is halfway through the second mile of the race. At 85 degrees, it is an unseasonably hot fall day, and the conditions are less than ideal for running a 5K. Olney knows she has reached the hardest part of the race and all she wants is for it to be over.  As she rounds the corner, Olney sees her teammates cheering for her from the sideline and it reminds her or her goal. “It helps me remember that I am running for my team and for its pride. It makes me feel like part of a close-knit and supportive community.”