When kids join a new sports team, the coach must first communicate to all players that they are in a physically and psychologically safe environment. The trust created between a coach and the players is vital for the team and individuals to fulfill their highest potential individually and collectively.
Wheelan describes this first step as Stage one (inclusion and dependency). In stage one, team members are often polite (i.e. reserved) towards one another and dependent on the coach to provide direction.
Stage two (counterdependency and fight) is when team members openly discuss their personal beliefs, values, and opinions, which often results in conflicting views among team members. Since young kids are less likely, compared to adults, to have developed personal convictions and/or values, this stage may be less evident in youth teams but is still essential for team development. The creation of a “safe” environment in stages one and two will enable team members to openly express themselves and act authentically without fear of being excluded by the team. Positive social norms (agreed upon standards of behavior) should be discussed between all team members during these stages as well. For youth sport teams it is imperative to communicate team norms and objectives to the parents to clarify expectations.
Stage three (trust and structure) consists of a commitment by each individual to their personal role(s) and to the goals of the team. Stage four (work/productivity) consists of an effective and efficient team where the majority of each team member’s time and effort is spent on team goals and tasks. Simply raising the awareness of players and coaches about each stage could result in a team discussion about where the team currently functions and what they must do to advance to the next stage. The last stage, Stage five (final), entails the termination of a team. Despite the fact that all sports teams have an official end to their season, many coaches fail to take advantage of this stage. The final stage is a great opportunity for players and coaches to share their experiences and reflect on what they learned throughout the season.
Providing youth coaches with a resource that describes Wheelen’s Integrated Model of Group Development can serve as a blueprint for team development to maximize the effectiveness and inclusion of all team members.
Wheelan, S.A. (2005). Group Processes: A Developomental Perspective. 2nd ed.