What Coaches Need to Know about Group Dynamics and the Hidden Curriculum

Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Sport Psychology

There are many scenes in the movie Miracle, about the 1980 U.S. Olympic ice hockey team, a group of underdogs that defeated the then-Soviet Union powerhouse and went on to take home the gold, that give me goose bumps. This includes one where the team has relatively recently come together. During a training session, head coach Herb Brooks repeatedly asks the players, “Who do you play for?” Each player, in turn, responds with his own alma mater, and this results in the new team being forced to run sprint after sprint on the ice until they are beyond exhausted.


group dynamics, hidden curriculum, coaching, teaching, teammworkIt isn’t until eventual team captain Mike Eruzione finally responds, “I play for the United States of America!” that Brooks ends the sprints. With this statement, Eruzione provided the evidence Brooks had been looking for that the players were starting to identify themselves as part of a defined group, that they prioritized their new group membership more than their individual histories. (At that point, they probably prioritized no more sprints over absolutely anything else, but they got the message.)


Athletes of every stripe are called upon to be part of a group, whether they play a team sport or compete individually. Ideally they identify with the group and demonstrate a sense of belonging and loyalty such that the group itself develops an identity in addition to the athletes’ identity as part of it. The cultivation of that group identity may go a long way toward the development of trust and rapport, which are necessary for effective practice and performance in individual and team sports alike. This means it behooves coaches and athletes to understand the implications of those dynamics and make sure they are positive.  


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