Building teamwork is an integral part of the youth sports experience, and there are several tips you can incorporate to achieve that goal. Kids play on Little League, Pop Warner, and AYSO teams not just to develop skills in their favorite sports, but also to learn important lessons about working with other people and playing fairly. Besides improving the play of your team as a whole, building teamwork will make sports more fun for your young players and will instill a sense of responsibility in them. Building teamwork in kids can be difficult, though, especially if the children on your team are clearly not all playing at the same level. When you add demanding and competitive parents to this mix, encouraging your kids to play as a team can become quite a challenge. There are several excellent ways you can foster a sense of camaraderie and unity in your players, though. The key to building teamwork amongst your young players is to create a clear line of communication, between yourself and all of your team members, as well as between individual team members.
Value All of Your Players Equally
Kids are way smarter and more perceptive than many adults give them credit for. If you have favorite players on the team, you can rest assured that the entire team knows who they are, regardless of how well you think you're concealing your personal preferences. Try to find qualities that you admire in every single kid on your team so that you don't devote more attention to any single player. This is especially important if your own children play on your team. Give all of your players equal time on the field, no matter how strong or weak they are. Children play team sports to have fun, not to win games. GIving weaker players more experience will only increase their skill levels anyways. Try focusing on celebrating team accomplishments instead of individual accomplishments so that you don't inadvertently create star players.
Take Time to Share
You can encourage camaraderie in your team by allowing the kids to get to know one another personally. Your practices don't always need to focus 100 percent on drills and game play. You can also take time out of practice to have team meetings where everyone gets a chance to voice concerns, opinions, or ideas for the team. You can even build games where the players get to know one another into practices. For example, sit in a circle and have each player say two true things and one false thing about themselves, not necessarily related to sports. Then let the other players guess which statements were false. Your players are more likely to play well with one another if they know each other as friends, rather than just as teammates.
Build Bonding into your Training
In addition to allowing the team players to get to know one another as people rather than as players, you should make it a point to create special, memorable team bonding experiences for your team. For example, schedule team pizza party nights, trips to the zoo, or even sleepover parties. Rather than holding an awards ceremony at the end of the season where you recognize the accomplishments of individual players, organize a party to celebrate the accomplishments of the team as a whole.
Vary your Drills
You know very well that most drills emphasize a particular skill, speed or coordination, for example. Always make it a point to build as many different types of drill into each practice so that you can showcase the individual talents of each player. If your practice consists primarily of speed drills, for instance, the fastest kids will always seem like the most important players. FIgure out what each kids' strength is, then make sure that the strength gets showcased in practices on a regular basis. This will give every kid a chance to shine and it will teach team members to utilize each other in a more productive fashion during games.
Do a Few Team Building Exercises
If your kids aren't playing well together at all, and you have some kids hogging the ball and forming social cliques on your team, then you may need to start planning some team building exercises that are totally unrelated to your sport. For example, get a balance beam and have ten kids stand on the beam. Then tell them to get in line according to their birthdays. If anyone's foot touches the floor or a leg of the beam, or if anyone in the group uses a put down, the whole team needs to step off of the beam and start over again. This will teach your team players how to work together and help each other out.