Team bonding is such a big focus of the summer, but there are two important rules to team bonding. 1) You can’t force it and 2) You have to do it all year. One big challenge I hear from coaches who are trying to establish team unity is when there is a big difference in ability across the team. I’m often asked, “How do you get the seniors to embrace the new freshman who has never done pom before?” Or “What if you have incoming dancers who are more technically advanced than your returners?” “How do you create unity in a team with such a wide range of abilities?”
Honestly, I think that’s the wrong question.
You’re worried about creating a sense of unity with different dancers. But the real issue is creating unity among different humans. How well they dance is really irrelevant to how well they should be able to get to know each other, bond, and unite as a team. The focus of team bonding is on genuine human connection, appreciation, and respect for one another. The foundation of unity should be based on understanding the human behind the dancer.
One strategy that many teams use, and I personally did for years as well, is a Big/Little setup or even families. We had returners connected with new dancers and that pair is connected all year and spends a lot of time together. On some teams, it’s pairs and those pairs shift every year. On other teams, you can do a Big/Little and then if they are still on the team the next year they just get another little and you have a family and so on.
No matter how you create the buddies or families, base these connections on personality. I found the most success when I got to know the new dancers a little bit and then made family groups based on things they had in common as people. I made sure the super quiet freshman was paired with a junior who was more introverted and comfortable in the background at loud team dinners. Or the goofy new sophomore was paired with the class clown senior. If they find at least one dancer they connect with and come to understand that it’s ok to be me on this team, that’s the true foundation of unity.
Team Bonding is not a Summer Issue
The battle for team unit isn’t a summer thing. It starts there, but it has to be a conscious effort all year.
We used our Big/Little pairs and families all season. They would be cleaning partners, or in charge of Friday Fun together. The veterans would act as a place to ask questions and offer reminders to their younger family members. We even dedicated specific times to enjoy social experiences with their pom families. For example, ending a Saturday practice early and asking the older girls to take their littles out somewhere. A picnic, an ice cream, a walk around the school. Anywhere as long as they had some time to just chat and connect.
The point is, when you are determining how to create a more unified team, focus on experiences that bring out the human behind the dancer. Writing complements in each other’s journals, volunteering together, being silly together, talking about their experiences, fears, and what brings them joy.
Remember it’s not about their level of dance technique, you’re bonding with the people on your team. Their emotions, personalities, dreams, and challenges. Focus on bringing understanding and compassion to the team who embraces its differences as the source of its strength.