I feel like the term “team building” gets thrown around a lot, and we don’t always know exactly what to do, why, or how to help our team connect quickly. There are some old tried and true strategies, like playing “Heads Up” or other games in practice, team dinners, and creating “Big Sis/Lil’ Sis” pairs. I think all of these are great, but honestly, they are just scratching at the surface unless you focus on communication.
What’s the purpose of team bonding? Yes, we want our dancers to get to know each other, we want them to like each other, and we want them to feel close. Like a family.
Many coaches believe, if the dancers spend time together in and out of practice, they will bond. It’ll take some time, but over the summer they’ll get to know each other and the team will click.
Here’s the truth: Time together ≠ team bonding.
If you’re not strategic about it, your team bonding will stay very surface level. Unless you encourage your dancers to learn to trust each other, they won’t be able to get in the trenches and work together when it matters most later in the season.
Bonding is not about “liking” each other. Sure, I hope my dancers all like each other, but that’s not really the goal.
I believe the goal of team bonding is to learn about communication. Truly bonding as a team is about understanding differences, learning each other’s strengths and weaknesses, understanding each other’s motivations, and finding common ground.
Focus on Communication
When team bonding focuses on learning how to COMMUNICATE with each other, you’ll see the long-term benefits all season long. They will talk through disagreements, support each other when there are mistakes, and develop genuine care for each other. Even if they don’t always like each other. And as every coach knows, they don’t always like each other.
This season, I encourage you to make your team bonding efforts more than “getting to know you,” but focus on talking and communicating with each other. Anything you can do to improve communication between your dancers will help them bond at a deeper level.
Communication & Bonding: It’s all circular
Communication and bonding are really part of a circular process. Increased communication on task and social issues increases cohesion. And more cohesive groups have increased communication.
So start working on getting your dancers to talk to each other, and listen!
5 Team Bonding Ideas Focused on Communication
To get you started, I’ve asked some of my successful coaching friends for their favorite and unique way to get their team communicating with each other. Here are 5 ideas you can use with your team:
Ask Us Anything
This is a wonderful get-to-know-the-team activity that allows for a positive introduction to team culture and helps the new dancers feel included right away. Trish, former Head Spirit Coordinator at Midland University, shares this great idea. During an early season team bonding event (like a sleepover theme night the first night your college students move to campus) allow the dancers to ask anything! Here’s how she set it up:
- Anyone on the team could write down anonymous questions on strips of paper. These questions could be about anything. Then a leader would read the questions out loud and upperclassmen would answer the questions.
- The goal was to help foster open dialogue surrounding questions that were typically hard to ask, and to begin a support system among the athletes.
- Example Questions that were asked:
- “How do I balance the demands of everything”
- “What is game day like”
- “How do you get over being homesick”
- “I have a long-distance boyfriend at another college, how do I handle this”
- “What services does the nurse provide”
- “Where/who can I discuss birth control with”
- “What do I do about my new roommate (non-dancer) already bringing in a handle of vodka in our fridge?”
Some of these example questions may be specific to those transitioning to college, but no matter the age of your dancers, it’s probably a large transition for the newbies and they will have lots of questions! Anything you can do to help them feel comfortable right away will go a long way towards creating a positive culture and encouraging communication. I hope you can adapt this idea for your program and get the conversation started!
Make a music video (or any sort of group task)
Jana with Denver East High School has created a whole music video contest that her team participates in. It’s a great way to learn how to work through a bigger task together. They have to plan the routine, decide who is teaching, listen to everyone’s ideas, and create the best possible product by working together! You can debrief afterwards and talk about how the team communicated, what went well and what can be better in the future. Plus, now you have a team music video as part of a finished product. What a great sense of accomplishment to kick off your season.
This music video contest runs in the summer, and you can participate too if you’d like! The contest is through Choreowire, and the winner receives a video store routine for free (think new done-for-you choreo you can use this season!) The website for info is www.Choreowire.com/danceday.) The dancers get to download the song for free and then post a video by national dance day on 7/27. Post and tag @choreowire @myremixmusic to enter!
Meredith with Springfield College told me about a great game to play early on in the season. Here’s what she had to say: My favorite game we play is called team trivia. I break the team into groups with a mix of newbies and veterans. I give them 10 minutes to try to debrief the newbies on fun facts about the team’s history. Where did we compete? What songs? What costumes? Where does this team saying come from? Then I quiz the newbies on fun facts about the team while the veterans watch. It’s a fun way to bring the new girls into the loop on funny “inside jokes” from the past and also get them to be a bit competitive.
What a fun way to get everyone included and “inside” quickly. Plus, it pushes your newbies to
Make A Week Of It
Cayla from Eaglecrest High School takes the average team bonding game idea and takes it up a notch… it’s a whole team bonding WEEK! She pics a new bonding challenge for the day, lasting 4-5 days, whatever the practice schedule dictates. The team is strategically divid
Another great idea from Cayla is to have partners sit back to back. The dancers have to describe themselves for the other person to draw. Cayla says, “We usually get silly drawings, but also get to talk about communication!”
Mountain Vista High School Coach Keri has a unique team bonding event that has become a staple for her and her team. Here’s what Keri told me she has created for her team: We do a HUGE all day Amazing Race. They are split into teams of 4 that have nothing to do with grade or what team they are on (Varsity/JV) and it is all parent organized so even the parents bond in the planning too. It’s Super fun!!!
Last year, finding Coach Keri as the Indian Princess hidden in the tee-pee was the final challenge! Here she is with the winning team!
Communication Activity: Hopes and Fears
After some fun team bonding events like a team BBQ or talent show, my team would transition into more serious conversations. Here’s one you can try to help the team start to talk about the more difficult topics: After you’ve been together for a few weeks and done the “fun” get to know you stuff, challenge them to go deeper. Give everyone a flash card and ask them to write “Hopes” on one side and “Fears” on the other. On the hopes side, ask them to write their biggest hopes and dreams for the season. Then on the fear side, write what they fear will get in their way.
Then you can mix up the cards and redistribute if you want it to stay anonymous, or just have everyone read their own (this depends on the team culture, I change it up year to year). Start with the fears. Usually, you will hear a theme about what everyone is afraid of. Not connecting with teammates, having regrets of not pushing hard at practice etc. It’s powerful for the team to hear what everyone is afraid of. Then read the hope side. There’s usually a theme with those too and it leaves everyone with a good warm fuzzy feeling about what your team can accomplish!
Choose What’s Right For You and Your Team
The bottom line is that it doesn’t matter what you choose to do, as long as you intentionally get them communicating and listening. Help them go deeper than the basic get to know you. Mix them up regularly so they can’t just stay in their comfort zones with the same type of people. Help the quiet freshman find the quiet junior who knows what it’s like to be overwhelmed with the new team. Help the crazy outgoing newbie find the teammates who will think her humor is hilarious and be goofy right along with her. Everyone can find someone to connect with, but sometimes they need a little intervention to find them.
Then once they find a friend and feel a sense of connection, it’s about getting them to communicate and understand each other’s differences. Help them learn what motivates each of them, what they need when they feel stressed, and their biggest hopes and fears. Increasing true communication skills will create an unbreakable bond for the season.