Team building is an invaluable part of building a championship team. The benefits of team building include improvements in: communication, buy-in, role acceptance, dedication, and the overall experiences of the players and coaches.
Almost every player and coach knows that team building is important to their success, but the concept of team building is hard to define. Many teams begin their pre-season with some type of team building activities. For instance, teams may have dinner together, go rock climbing, or perform a team challenge together that is unrelated to their sport. Players may enjoy the "team building" experience; but is the team going to see an improvement in performance during the season as a result of eating together or completing an off-the-court team building challenge?
The answer is likely determined by the deliberateness of the players and coaches taking part in the activity. The problem lies in the fact that many people participating in a team building activity don't understand:
Failing to understand the previously mentioned keys for a team building exercise will result in little or no improvements in team/individual development. It would be comparable to telling a player with barely any knowledge of proper shooting mechanics to shoot-around for an hour and expect them to become better at shooting. The player doesn't know the purpose of the "shoot-around", what drills to do, or how to do them.
So what can we do?
The first step for any team attempting to do a team building activitiy is to identify the purpose. If it's simply for fun, great! But it should be known beforehand. If it's meant to improve communication, then clearly state that to the players so they have an awareness of whether they are communicating effectively.
The second step involves the contrasting of the good and the bad. Team members must clearly understand the differences of when they are doing something good or bad. For example, a group using a team building activity for the purpose of improving communication should have the players reflect on when they were communicating effectively or not. This seems like common sense, but many teams do these activities without any specific skill they are looking to develop.
In addition, the team must allot some time for reflection after the exercise. The act of objectively assessing our individual and team effectiveness is required for improvement. One of the major differences from a traditional team setting is that the coach(es) should not be the only team members assessing and strategizing. When this happens, players tend to become more defensive towards recommendations to improve their game, even if it is in their best interest. In general, we resist things (like constructive criticism) when we do not have any say. Therefore, coaches can enhance buy-in and acceptance to change when they give players the "safe space" to objectively assess themselves and choose an implementation intention (i.e. A behavior change to improve performance).