5 Keys to Better Team Chemistry

Oct. 18, 2017, 2:30 p.m. (ET)

Originally published in VolleyballUSA, Winter 2015-16 issue. 
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Natalie Hagglund

USA libero, former All-American at University of Southern California

“From my experiences playing volleyball both internationally and domestically, the best way to establish strong team chemistry is to take the time to learn about your teammates. I’m not talking about learning about how many siblings they have or their favorite color. I’m talking about really opening up and finding out what makes them click. Who or what inspired them to play volleyball? How did they get to where they are today? Who or what do they want to work hard for? What have they sacrificed to be here? What are their ultimate professional goals? When you have these personal conversations, it’s special. You build trust and establish a relationship that is bigger than just the game of volleyball. You can draw upon that information and use it to fuel their fire when they need an uplift or to calm them down in an intense competitive environment. You can help them through the most difficult times, just by knowing those small details. I guarantee you that if you really take the time to give and receive information, it will translate onto the court.”

Stephanie Schleuder

Former women’s coach at University of Alabama, University of Minnesota and Macalester, recent inductee into AVCA Hall of Fame.

“A key in developing good team chemistry is for the coach to nurture players toward an environment where they understand and embrace supportive behaviors – both on and off the court. The first step is helping players understand the importance of rejecting divisive behaviors like clicks, gossip and insincerity. I've found that it helps players to figure things out for themselves, so I put them into small groups for discussion and then bring the entire team together to share ideas. First, ask them to discuss behaviors that could be negative influences on the team. If they don't come up with things like gossip, clicks and self-centered behavior, prompt them. Good discussion starters include: Describe a trusting relationship and how it feels; describe your best team experience and why it was good; what do we want the team to be like and look like at school, traveling, coming into the gym, during warm-ups and during play. Have someone write bullet points on a board and then make copies for everyone. It will likely require a review at some point. Finally, help the team come up with a one-sentence description of what they want to create. Something like: ‘We are committed to developing a genuine desire to play with and for each other.’”

Erik Shoji

USA libero, former Stanford All-American, named Best Libero at the 2015 FIVB World Cup

“Find a way to spend time with your teammates outside of the gym. Go the beach, see a movie or have lunch with some of your teammates. Spending quality time outside of the gym, in my opinion, helps build better relationships with better communication and stronger trust that can help your team chemistry on the court. When you can communicate clearly and trust your teammates, team chemistry comes naturally and will help propel your team toward your goals.”

John Speraw

U.S. Men’s National Team head coach, UCLA men’s team head coach

“I think you have to be very, very careful how you define accountability. Accountability is a vogue term in coaching. I hear it mentioned frequently, and I’m very wary of it. Most of the time, when coaches use the term accountability, the idea is, ‘I want you to hold your teammates accountable on the volleyball court.’ And the way that’s usually heard is, ‘I’m going to tell my teammate when he makes a mistake.’ That only leads to a culture of blame. In terms of errors and teaching and responsibilities on the court, I believe the players should be accountable to the coach, not each other. What they should be accountable for with one another is to support each other and make each teammate better. They need to understand how to communicate with their teammates in order to do that. And that is almost never yelling at a teammate, blaming a teammate, criticizing a teammate or telling teammates what they should be doing. That’s the coach’s job.”

Katie Holloway

Three-time Paralympian and a 2016 Paralympic Gold medalist

"Quality time helped our team grow leading up to Sitting Gold in Rio."

Karch Kiraly

U.S. Women’s National Team head coach, 3-time Olympic gold medalist 

“A big goal of ours on the national team is to add up to more than the sum of our parts. One of the ways you do that is to take care of each other. We talk a lot about being selfless instead of selfish. That’s not easy to do. But if lots of people are doing it, then it helps each teammate feel special. And you can see it in lots of little things on the court. If somebody dives for a ball, is somebody else sprinting over to pick them up or is everybody kind of ignoring that person after she has put out great effort? Are people looking each other in the eye or are they turning away from somebody after she makes a mistake? Are people facing each other directly, giving high fives, making physical contact? All of those things are ways players can help elevate the play of their teammates.”