Does your team have any rituals? At first, you might be shaking your head. But think about it: Are there team chants or cheers that you do before every game? Does the team paint their faces or wear certain clothes before big meets? Do you have a certain post-race routine that you do together?
Rituals can have a positive, healthy effect on any athletic team when they’re created thoughtfully. But when rituals are left in place without consideration year after year, they can also have a negative impact on a team’s culture. Here, TrueSport Expert and President of Now What Facilitation, Nadia Kyba, MSW, shares a few ways that you can establish team rituals that lead to a more successful, cohesive, happy team.
Understand the power of rituals as a team
Sports give people a sense of belonging, and rituals within a team can amplify that and unite teammates who may otherwise not have much in common. And while you might think rituals are just superstitions that a team has before a game, they can encompass so much more than that. Rituals can be used to promote healthy behaviors, like meditating before each game or having a healthy snack after every meet. They can also be used as sports psychology tools, by creating mantras and chants that align with a team’s values and goals they’ve set for the season. And they can be fun and simply a good way of helping teammates—even the shy ones—feel a bit more connected.
Understand that rituals can have dark sides
While rituals can be great for team bonding and may bring a team closer together, they can also alienate individuals on the team and even promote unhealthy behaviors. Some teams, for example, have rituals like public weekly weigh-ins that encourage athletes to engage in unhealthy eating and exercising practices. And some rituals, like certain snacks pre-competition, might not align with an individual athlete’s allergies, sensitivities, or cultural food choices. New athletes may also feel left out of rituals that aren’t well explained at the beginning of the season, especially when the team has many returning players. Be aware of this—and reconsider the rituals you currently have in place on your team. Make sure they are aligned with the team’s values and goals.
Create a ritual-making ritual
Some rituals evolve organically, like the whole team opting to wear school colors on game days, but it’s a good idea to sit down as a team and decide together what the best rituals and routines for your team this season should be. Together, you can vote and decide on things like team mantras, whether or not your team will do a group cheer before competition, if you’ll all wear a certain color or t-shirt to meets, and if bringing snacks to practice or game day is a good shared ritual for the team. If you’re a leader or captain on the team, you can take ownership of the process. Your coach should be invited into the dialogue, but rituals should be based on what the team as a whole chooses.