My first few years playing professionally in Europe always started with some kind of team bonding activities, and I always thought it was pointless. We would have team dinners where cell phones were banned, training camps isolated in the mountains with terrible wifi, or team activities where we were forced to spend time together off the court. Coming from college at the University of Wisconsin, I didn’t see a point to any of this because we always had great team chemistry and already hung out together off the court, and my first team in Belgium was, to a lesser degree, more of the same. We had a mostly young team with a mix of veterans to show us the ropes. We got along off the court and played unselfishly on the court, which helped us win the mid season cup and end of year championship both seasons I was there.
Then I went to teams that DID NOT have good chemistry, and it was costly. Guys would yell at each other for every mistake and blatantly disrespect the young players who may have struggled through a practice or game. Our European and American players were two separate groups on and off the court.
Now I understood why European teams try to push the team bonding experiences so hard. Because when you don’t have a team that gets along, as soon as hard times hit (and they undoubtedly will) everyone will go their separate ways.
Now, I don’t believe that your entire team has to be best friends off the court, but when you are on the court you need to be a cohesive group. I have been on teams where we rarely did things together off the court, but got along great on the court because our leaders set the tone by being demanding but supportive and positive with other players. We knew everyone had each others back come game time.
Make your senior leaders partner up with the sophomore who shows promise but needs guidance and time to learn and develop. Encourage parents to get involved and host spaghetti feeds the night before games. And if you sense a divide in your team, do everything you can to nip that in the bud.
When push comes to shove, you want a team that is all pushing in the same direction. Team chemistry can be a tricky thing, but it can make or break a season.