Team cohesion in sport involves a variety of factors e.g. coaches and the environment and can be defined as: ‘a dynamic process that is reflected in the tendency of a group to stick together and remain united in the pursuit of its instrumental objectives and/or for the satisfaction of member affective needs’ which suggests the level of cohesion will affect outcome goals (Carron et al, 1998). The sum of the individual members of a team has been recorded to be greater than each person working independently and this explains why teamwork is so vital. Team cohesion refers to inter personal relationships and the extent to which these effect, either positively or negatively, on a team’s performance whether on a daily basis or competition.
There are many influences on cohesion and its links with success. Communication is crucial to function effectively as well as understanding and defining roles to determine common goals. There are different types of goal which can be divided into task or social and for the strongest cohesion these must be present in all individuals in the same quantities. Task cohesion: ‘refers to the degree to which members of a group work together to achieve common goals, for example, to win a specific game’ whereas social cohesion: ‘reflects the degree to which members of a team like each other and interact accordingly’ (Richardson, 2013). Even though both aspects need to be present in a team, some studies have suggested that the social factor is not as essential for team success. ‘Most coaches and athletes prefer team mates to like each other, but it appears that as long as they are completely focused on their common task and share the same goals and beliefs success is possible even without social cohesion’ (Brandon, 2014).
Even though high cohesion is viewed as a positive this may not always be true and many of the main research articles explored this topic. In some situations having too high cohesion may become negative by generating: ‘pressure to conform, groupthink, and group polarisation’ which may be associated with performance deterioration from excessive social cohesion (Rovio et al, 2009). Pressure to conform may occur when a player fears for his position within a team and of being viewed negatively: ‘a high status player revealed that he had difficulties in giving critical feedback to his team- mates’ which in turn could reduce the effectiveness of the team and overall performance (Rovio et al, 2009). However, it is the coach or sport psychologists job to prevent this, either by speaking with the team first or teaching the captain how to present feedback to increase cohesion and performance. Groupthink is another aspect which may decrease the likelihood of a team discussing any performance issues, Rovio’s research continued, ‘and it leads to the deterioration of decision making in the group’ which is a vital aspect so there is no confusion and everyone knows what needs to be done. Following these themes group polarisation demonstrates ‘a shift towards the opinion of the majority’ which again removes the chance of feedback and progression if needed and ‘the group’s assessment of its performance had become too positive’ and so even though social cohesion was very high, task cohesion may not be. However, when task cohesion or social cohesion is low especially at the individual level social loafing is likely to present, which is where ‘individuals within a group put forth less than 100% effort because of losses in motivation’ and this may be because members do not agree with the goals and so overall team performance decreases (Weinberg and Gould, 2011). Furthermore, when interlinked with the issues of high social cohesion ‘ignoring social loafers would help to preserve feelings of team unanimity’ so for the team to become successful, social cohesion may need to be reduced and task cohesion promoted with set goals that all players are agreed on for the greatest cohesiveness and performance.
Research within cohesion has integrated a broad range of topics which suggests that there are a number of factors which it is influenced by and these all must coincide for the greatest results. There can be negatives to high cohesion especially within the social aspect, as team members could become too involved and lose focus of the team and there is also more likely to be clashes between members. However, high social cohesion can also be a positive as those individuals are more likely to enjoy sport and therefore extend length of participation. There must be defined and specific goals to avoid confusion and promote the best cohesion and undoubtedly this should enhance success and high level performance from all players. This is fundamental for psychologists, coaches and players alike to understand in order to promote the best team environment and team building interventions are a thriving method of improving cohesiveness. Therefore, all aspects of cohesion must be balanced and positive within a sports team both at an individual and group level in order to have the highest level of performance and success.
Brandon R, (2014), Team Sports: Team Cohesion and Success: What is the Link? Sports Performance Bulletin, Retrieved on: 07/11/2014 From: http://www.pponline.co.uk/encyc/team-sports-team-cohesion-and-success-what-is-the-link-78
Carron A, Brawley L and Widmeyer N, (1998), Measurement of Cohesion in Sport and Exercise, Advances in Sport and Exercise Psychology Measurement, Pages 213-226
Richardson A, (2013), Sports Psychology – Group Cohesion, Irish Drug Free Powerlifiting Association, Retrieved on: 07/11/2014 From: http://www.idfpa.net/#!sports-psychology---group-cohesion/c146j
Rovio E, Eskola J, Kozub S, Duda J and Lintunen T, (2009), Can High Group Cohesion be Harmful? A Case Study of a Junior Ice- Hockey Team, Small Group Research, 40:4, Pages 421-435
Weinberg R and Gould D, (2011), Foundations of Sport and Exercise Psychology, Fifth Edition, USA: Human Kinetics
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About Emily Cheek
Sport and Exercise Science graduate. Working as a corporate health physiologist. Keen netballer.