I am being continually reminded of one hard truth about the sport we all love so much. This is the critical nature of team dynamics on in curling. Certainly, team dynamics are not a unique requirement to our sport but they do seem to have an impact far beyond that of other sports. I decided to do some research into why this might be the case and what I found seemed to agree with what I had figured on my own.
First, an aside. For those of you studying teams and the dynamics within teams, I would highly suggest you look into business literature for additional insight. There seems to be much more of that out there and frankly, the concepts overlap those things that we’re trying to achieve quite nicely.
What did I learn? Well, it’s likely fairly obvious but many of the advantages that small teams enjoy over larger teams also end up being double edged swords. When those “advantages” don’t work well, they end up damaging the small team. The first example of this would be clarity within a team. Each member of a four person team has a pretty direct sight line to each of their team mates. Any difference in philosophy or commitment will be pretty obvious, pretty quickly and there’s no ignoring it. On larger teams, players may not have the level of insight into their team mates that they get on small teams. With that insight is the ability to achieve a level of cohesion that is much more difficult in larger teams. Of course, the chance of the smaller team being pulled apart by those aforementioned differences is also higher. Much of this is due to the increased interaction between each team member. Face it, there’s no “hiding” on a small team, in any respect!
Larger teams can also enjoy (suffer?) the experience of “group think”. That is, a prevailing attitude or gravitation towards consensus that may or may not be beneficial to the groups success. In our smaller teams, players are less inclined to go with the flow because the flow is that much smaller! Again though, the flip side of that is that players who don’t see any support for their opinions can very quickly feel very marginalized within small teams causing discourse and a definite lack of cohesion.
If small teams can get on the same page, they are much better to develop a strong sense of trust in each other. It’s much more difficult for larger teams to achieve this across the board and that trust brings with it a whole pile of benefits.
That is just scratching the surface of the “small team vs. large team” study. What does that have to do with us as coaches? Everything. It’s our job to build and foster the environment where these considerations go down the “positive” road rather than the negative one. I’ve said before, a coach cannot force team cohesion, they can only create an environment where it has the best chance to succeed. I cannot stress enough that in my limited experience, it’s this team formation and nurturing that has the single biggest impact on a team’s success. We need to constantly be examining how we do business so that we are giving our teams the best chance to bond.