Teams Win Championships: A Case Study

July 26, 2017

Players win games, teams win championships. To me that phrase means that individuals have great statistics in sports, but it takes a group of people working together in order to achieve greatness when faced with other groups of people that want to accomplish the same thing. Two seasons with one of my basketball teams were a great study in this.

The same players were on both teams, but in 2016 the team lost every game and finished last. In 2017 they were undefeated, undisputed, and finished in first place. The difference wasn’t in their basketball skills, it was the ability to play together as a team. The 2017 team was able to pass, work together to overcome the weaknesses of other teams’ defenses, take advantage of their strengths to unselfishly get the ball to the player who was best able to score in a given situation, and they were able to communicate with each other.

This was accomplished by spending time each practice working on team dynamics. First are obvious ways via team meetings before practice. Each practice had a theme that was written on the white board. The team would gather around the white board before practice, go over the theme, and discuss how it applied to basketball and what it meant. This was then reviewed after each practice.

In addition to theme, we had expectations in 2017 that were not present in 2016. The first expectation was that we were not going to repeat 2016, losing every game is not acceptable. In other words, we created the expectation that we were going to be successful. The second expectation was that we were going to do everything as a team. The third expectation was that we were going to practice, and play, hard in order to get better.

During practice, the sense of team was developed in less obvious ways. One way involved shared experiences that were done together and that set them apart from every other team. These include exercises that were done military-style and huddle cheers. There were also a focus on drills and game situations that required the team to work together.

Let me address the exercises. This is the first part of our warm-up. It involves a half dozen calisthenic exercises (like jumping jacks). The coach counts the movements in each exercise, the entire team counts the repetitions – loudly. This means we learn to move together and talk together, as one. By the way, the coach does the exercises too. We then move on to sprints, agility work, and core before getting to basketball.

In practice we have individual skills, game situations, and practicing plays/defenses. During individual skills, everyone is cheered on by the team. We support our teammates. Game situations involve everything from rebound and passing drills to situations where the offense or defense is severely outmanned (2v5 is one of my favorites), with the players on each part being rotated every few minutes. Practicing plays and defenses teach us to communicate, watch the court, and learn to work together.

All of this has created a high level of expectation for the 2018 team. They want to repeat their 2017 success. In order to do that, they will have to continue to improve on their basketball skill while expanding their ability to work together. In 2018 they will need to be able to adjust their defensive style to their opponents and be able to adjust their offensive strategies to the defenses that their opponents show them.