What is “team chemistry?” What does it look like? How important is it?
I recall Baltimore Oriole Hall of Famer Cal Ripken once saying something to the effect of, “When we are winning, our team chemistry is great.”
What came first, the chicken or the egg? What comes first, team chemistry or winning?
I would submit that team chemistry must come first.
Some recent conversations with college coaches shed some light on the topic.
Weber State’s Randy Rahe said, “We really try to recruit high character guys...We are always referring to toughness and character...We try to obviously get guys that are unselfish, that want to win for Weber State and they are not here to go do something beyond Weber State--they’re here because they want to win for us...Those kids get better and better every day.”
In talking about his experience playing for Dean Smith at North Carolina, long time William and Mary coach Tony Shaver referred to the importance of team chemistry.
“I think one of the things that has always meant the most to me that I learned from Coach Smith was... that the chemistry of your team is so important, you know, recruiting good kids that get along, that have good values, but are willing to play for one another is really important.”
Former Patriot League Assistant Nathan Davis, currently the Head Coach at Division III power, Randolph Macon added, “You cannot win at a high level without it. You may be able to beat teams when you have superior talent, but when you run into a team that is close to you in talent, equal in talent, or more talented, you will be in trouble. If you don’t have chemistry, the players will never trust each other on the court. If they don’t trust each other, then when things get tough, guys will try to do too much instead of making the right/easy play that leads to victory,” said Davis.
Davis also shared some thoughts on developing team chemistry.
“You must work on it from day one. It can be as simple as making different guys work out together to changing up roommates on road trips and challenging the older players to make sure the new or younger players are included in things off the court. I believe you need to make them uncomfortable on the court as well with challenging practices and drills, so that they must rely on each other to get through it.”
Now in his tenth year at Longwood University, Mike Gillian has built a Division I basketball program from the ground up, beginning with a four year reclassification period from Division II to Division I, and years as an independent. After years of traveling the country playing anyone and everyone, Longwood is now a member of the Big South. Gillian has had to pay attention to team chemistry to keep his program together.
“Without good team chemistry, there is no way a team, or working group can succeed,” said Gillian.
“In everything you do as a college coach, there is always an effort to make sure your entire program--coaches, players, and support personnel--are all pretty much wired the same way, so to speak. They enjoy each other’s company, work to push each other to fulfill their potential, and can work congruently on how to get to the ultimate goal--competitive success. There is no formula, and no blueprint. There is perseverance, psychology, patience, and belief--a lot of times without evidence--that if the synergistic ‘we’ keeps plugging away, that we will get to the point where our chemistry clicks and we elevate our level of performance to new highs. Then the real challenge begins--finding a way to keep that chemistry in place to move beyond success to championships,” said Gillian.
An additional thought from Gillian: “Team chemistry does not occur without a ‘chemist.’ Some media like to write stories about ‘glue guys.’ Somebody needs to do a piece on the best ‘Team Chemists.’ Coaches can easily identify if they have one. They are the ones who put the team first no matter the circumstances and are the MOST vital in building good team chemistry.”