Adrian Schonfield has worked at the Australian Institute of Sport since the beginning of 2002 and has been psychologist to the Men’s basketball program since July 2002.
“While we all had individual goals and ambitions, in a team sport such as basketball it is not only your ability to perform your skills, but also your ability to form a team and perform within that [team], that will make a difference”. The person who said this was Aaron Bruce. Aaron was a member of the 2003 Australian Emus team that won gold at the Junior World Championships and was part of the Australian Institute of Sport (AIS) Men’s Basketball program in 2002 and 2003.
The purpose of this two-part article is to outline one of the things we did with the 2003 AIS Men’s Basketball team to help bring them together for a successful year. While there were many things that teams do on a daily level (for example, training) that help to build cohesion, we started the year with a short camp that was designed to bring the team together and get them focused for the year. In the first part of this article, I have outlined some of the factors that led to this camp and the choice of activities included and the details of the first day. It also briefly deals with the underlying theory that has guided the psychological component in this case. As with other sports scientists, a psychologist involving himself in sport should be guided by models and theory, backed by scientific research. The second part of the article (to be presented in the next issue) expands on day two activities and gives some of my impressions of the camp and its value.
The team consisted of 13 young men aged between 17 and 19, all of whom were in consideration for the Emus squad to play at the Youth World Championships. Ten of the members would make the final team and would go on to win gold in Greece. Of the 13, there were seven returning players from the 2002 AIS team and six new players. The AIS team resides together in dormitory accommodation in Canberra, trains up to three times per day and has access to sports science and sports medicine support including physiotherapy, massage and physicians.
For the Emus to win the world championship, we knew that what happened to this group of players during the first part of the year would be very important, hence there were a number of purposes for this camp. The most important was to help the players become familiar with each other and to integrate the new players in with the old to form one team. Secondly, we wanted a team culture in which players were prepared to push themselves and each other, one in which the players were responsible for their own behaviour. Thirdly, we wanted the players to enjoy themselves in the process of becoming a team and setting their goals for the year.
From a personal perspective as the team psychologist, I had another goal, which was to gain some understanding of the team dynamics and individuals within the team as this would be the first meeting I had with the new players.
As we wanted a team culture of self-driven players, I looked to see what psychological models and theories existed in this area. Recent conceptualisations of motivation (Ryan and Deci 2000) suggest that the old dichotomy of extrinsic and intrinsic is not specific enough to capture different sources of motivation. They suggest that there is a motivation, four types of extrinsic motivation ranging in the extent that they are self-determined and three types of intrinsic motivation: knowledge, accomplishment and stimulation. Self-determination theory (Ryan and Deci 1985; 1991) suggests that human behaviour is motivated by the fulfilment of needs, specifically the needs for autonomy, competence and relatedness. Simply summarised, autonomy is choosing one’s own behaviour, competence is perceiving themselves as able, and relatedness is feeling connected with other people. The model suggests that if we can provide an environment that leads to an increase in a person’s perception of their autonomy, competence and relatedness, we will increase their self-determined extrinsic and intrinsic motivations. By allowing the players to be involved in setting up the standards for their own team, we would allow them the opportunity for increased autonomy. By giving the players some challenges mental and physical - we allow them the opportunity for increased competence. By giving the players the opportunity to form a close-knit team, we allow them the opportunity for increased relatedness. The end result of this is that by developing a camp program that gives opportunities for autonomy, competence and relatedness, we may increase self-determined extrinsic and intrinsic motivation and that will be important for the times when playing and training in the AIS and world-championship environment get tough.
We knew that the players were not going to be too interested in spending large amounts of time sitting around in a classroom-style setting (if they did, they would be better at school and worse at basketball). However, to achieve the purpose of the camp, I thought we needed to have a number of sessions that involved this type of activity. It then became important to make sure that, where possible, activities were active and that sessions were broken up with other games to refresh minds and bodies.
Time constraints suggested that we would be best to limit the camp from 6.00 pm one night until 7.00 pm the following night.
WHAT WE DID
Approximately two days before the camp was due to start, the players received a document titled ‘An invitation to participate (to attend is compulsory) in the AIS 2003 Men’s Basketball team camp’. Definitions were also given for ‘attend’ and ‘participate’ to help players realise that their input was important and that the camp would not just be coaches and psychologist talking at them. Players were also told that the camp was about them as a group, setting the goals and standards they wanted to achieve. A timetable for the camp activities was also provided.
Young, male basketballers tend to like to eat, so the camp started with a team meal. We followed dinner with activities that involved players pairing up, and with one in each pair blindfolded, the other member had to instruct the blindfolded member to move to the venue for the next activity. This activity was chosen as it would require players to communicate with each other, trust each other and had opportunities for fun and mischief (walking people over stones and into branches).
The third activity for the night was a ‘modified name game’*. Within the team, there was a diverse array of origins of names. The name game uses names as a starting point for each person in the group to explain where they come from, not only in terms of a country or race, but in terms of some of their family systems and values. It was thought that by helping each player to understand the other players better, we were increasing our chances of having a harmonious team. We were surprised to find that the team had players with heritage from countries such as Croatia, Serbia, Macedonia, Poland, Italy, England, Scotland, Ireland and the Netherlands. This exercise allowed the players to speak a little about themselves and also to hear about their teammates. While intuitively the game might accentuate differences between people, with emphasis on the right questions it can be used to display the many similarities between people.
* The original ‘name game’ was sourced from Teaching About Culture, Ethnicity and Diversity: Exercises and planned activities, edited by Theodore Singelis (1998).