2+2=5? Personality of a Team

OF course 2+2 does not equate to 5. But I believe the sum should always be greater than its parts, just like the teams I work with.

A few years ago I was asked to present to a group of coaches and discuss “Team Chemistry” and the importance of understanding all the different pieces that make the whole. I began by telling the group that much like a jigsaw, there needs to be an image of what the finished product should look like before we begin to put the pieces together. However, unlike a jigsaw our pieces don’t always come with compatible edges that seamlessly slide together to collectively form the finished product.

Rinus Michels, the creator of total football said “Teambuilding is a theoretical, well structured process in which the coach has to understand the logical cohesion between the parts – like a mechanic with a car.” He’s not wrong – imagine having to drive your car with no engine, or not having windshield wipers when its raining. If you’re able to picture that, now picture what your team would like without the physical and motivational engine you have playing in the center of the pitch – Who happens to be the driving force of encouragement, who barks their orders out like a drill sergeant, fueling the rest of the team with their positive words and actions. Or the holding midfielder who sweeps away any problems before they happen and breaks up the flow of the opponent, allowing the back four to breath a little easier.

These are just two roles that I look to fill on the teams I coach. But…it may not always be possible to find the player who can identity with being a turbo charged v8 engine with fuel lines that extend to all the other players. So what do I do to fill that void? I understand the personalities of the players I have, what characteristics and traits each has and what they bring to the team dynamic. Then the process can begin.

Stephen Covey (7 Habits of Highly Effective People) wrote about the character ethic vs the personality ethic. He discusses the personality ethic as opposed to character as the driving force behind an individual’s success. The way we dress, interact with others in social settings, have a positive mental attitude along with skills and techniques needed in our line of work, etc. What I find interesting about that, is we may find ourselves so caught up in what the perception of our personality should be, that we lose sight of who we really are. Each person on a team brings so much more than their personality to the fold. It’s who they are today and who they’ll one day become that I look for when putting the pieces together. I want players who are not afraid to learn from mistakes and listen to their teammates advice, who can manage situations without seeking help from the coach, who are self critical and self aware, and have a commitment to their individual growth and development. Recognizing how important self-motivation is, I bring the players together and discuss the process of what motivates them. We go over the three components of motivation – 1. Activation 2. Persistence 3. Intensity, and we see how our core values relate to the three. I want the team as a whole to remain focused and motivated on the day to day process and not any expected or desired future outcomes. Our target is always to know more today than we did tomorrow, to do the small things right and let the bigger picture on the front of the box take shape.

Managing different personalities is never easy, but I have found one of the simplest ways to do so is by listening. Understanding my players, their needs, their habits, and what drives them allows me to help them as individuals, but also see how best to use them in the team dynamic. I allow my players ownership of their team, and in doing so I see relationships forged and a sense of team identity soon follows. I merely set the conditions  by creating an environment where everyone has equal roles and responsibilities, and I demand a go-for-it atmosphere during training. I encourage players to ask questions of themselves and look for and offer positive feedback. The challenge is not so much adapting as a coach to cater to so many different personalities, its getting them to believe that their strength lies in their diversity. David Nolan, a close friend and the Head Women’s Soccer Coach at Georgetown University wrote the following “Team Chemistry is an intangible that separates all great teams from good ones. It ranks up there alongside talent as one of the primary ingredients of being successful. As a coach I try to invest as much time as possible building the chemistry on my team.” 

Chemistry (chem.is.try) 1. the branch of science that deals with the identification of the substances of which matter is composed; the investigation of their properties and the ways in which they interact, combine, and change. 2. the complex emotional or psychological interaction between two or more people.

Thoughts? Ideas? Please share, its makes us all better.2013 NPL National Champions




11 thoughts on “2+2=5? Personality of a Team

  1. Good team captain.
    Do things off the field As a team with one another.
    Emphasize team goal and not individuality goals.
    Right players.


  2. Steve: Thanks for sharing your insight, I found your thoughts very interesting. Here are some of my thoughts for team building. Notes taken from Bill Beswick’s One Goal. The 4 C’s Clear the air – honest and open Communication is Key: Open and honest communication, between the staff. Communication is a life skill, and it’s our job to help teach our athletes how to listen and talk and how to communicate effectively, verbally and non-verbally. Core Values Bind All: Breathe life into the values of our team THROUGHOUT THE YEAR by pointing them out and creating activities around them. Collaboration – alignment, we are more similar than you think. Team Building Infrastructure: Positive team culture is something we must work at EVERY DAY. Teams need to decide what they want to achieve and why: write it down, Set deadlines, Make an Action plan, List difficulties, Prioritize time and energy, Establish Mileposts, Measure our progress, Celebrate our Success.

    These steps will enable people to Define: who we are, how we want to play, what our future players should look like, how we coach, how we support.

    “Direction” A winning team mindset begins when all members of a team agree to be led in the same direction. We need to support a common vision and purpose, We must think we before me, Encourage and support each other, Take responsibility for our particular roles, Our message needs to be simple and clear.


    • First let me say that learning and sharing with those who share a common vision is priceless, so thanks for your responses.

      Chris, some terrific points. You say a winning mindset begins when all the members of a team agree to be led in the same direction. I want them to create a new path, one that I’ll guide them on and drive them down for the first few miles, but then I want to become a passenger as they build the foundation for what will be their successes and achievements. As the coach I realize the leadership comes from the top, but I want my players to understand that it has to come from each and every one of them in order to drive the team in the direction they want to go.

      Ruth thinks there is somewhat of a hidden element in my original post, there is. I subscribe to the guide and discovery principle, and as such it would not be beneficial to anyone had I not left room for thought, ideas, and insight for you to contribute to. I love the metaphor of it being a potluck dinner with a host, but what do we do when there are several players who don’t know how to cook, a couple more who don’t like to share, and a few who are picky with what they eat? That’s when the process of listening and engaging them pays dividends. Knowing what they like, what they need, and how I can provide them with an environment that is holistic but also challenging is necessary for the individual and collective growth. Also having the number of the local pizzeria on speed dial helps.

      Kristian’s bullet points are valid, and I recognize the need for a team to have a good captain. Kristian also noted “Right Players” and its worth pointing out that each changing room has mostly constructive players, but there are times when the destructive player can bring down in one day what took years to build. There is a great example of that in Dani Osvaldo at Southampton. Pochettino reflected on that situation in a recent talsksport.com interview when asked about whether or not Tottenham would sign Saido Berahino from West Brom. “Its a consequence of our decisions that we have a good dressing room at Tottenham now, because its not magic.” He continued “We have a very good changing room now but we’ve worked very hard to to try to build relationships between the players and the staff to create a very good level of training, discipline and mentality. And this is important to keep now.”

      I will now refer back to understanding through listening. The players that are destructive often have other things going on in their lives. Whether its the car ride with a negative and overbearing parent, or a social issue that we as coaches and leaders have no knowledge of, we owe it to the player and their teammates to help them overcome the negative and show them its better to be positive. In my original post I mention Stephen Covey’s book The (7 Habits of Highly Effective People), and there is a story in the book that I’ll share with you that I’m sure we can all relate to. In summary…

      I was sitting on the subway one Sunday morning and everyone was sitting quietly reading the paper, eyes closed, or simply deep in thought. It was a calm and peaceful scene. Then suddenly a man and his children entered and the children were rambunctious and loud, and the climate on the subway changed immediately. The man sat down next to me and closed his eyes, oblivious to the situation. The kids were yelling, throwing things, even grabbing peoples newspapers. It was very disturbing and the man did nothing. I felt irritated that he was so insensitive and not taking responsibility at all. it was easy to see everyone else was feeling the same way. I finally turned to him and said “Sir, your children are really disturbing a lot of people. I wonder if you couldn’t control them a little more?” The man lifted his gaze as if to come to a consciousness of the situation for the first time and said softly “Oh, you’re right. I guess I should do something about it. We just came from the hospital where their mother died about an hour ago. I don’t know what to think, and I guess they don’t know how to handle it either.” Can you imagine what I felt at that moment? Suddenly I saw things differently, and I thought differently, I felt differently, I behaved differently.

      Ben, I am flattered and honored by your comment “You can tell that is a Steve Davis team” and I love your response about the balanced small groups as they are a vital component to any team. The lines that make up the team will train independently from the other lines and they’ll form different types of relationships that are critical to the on field performances. To all of you, thank you for making me a better coach and person today than I was yesterday.


  3. I think there is a somewhat hidden element in your post: the framework that a coach develops within which the chemistry, talents, and personality of a team come together.

    My metaphor is one of a large family potluck dinner. The goal is to have a great meal…but you don’t know exactly what dishes each family member will bring. Perhaps you suggest that different people bring a type of dish (salad, entree, dessert, beverage), but the cooking skill and creativity will vary by person. In my family, you want me to do the baking, and my youngest son to do incredibly well-spiced main dishes. Different skills and interests – both needed to make a good meal.

    My point is that someone has to host the event and provide the framework for the event. Find the table and enough chairs for everyone. Decide on a date and time. I think that most of the time, this is the coach.

    So the somewhat hidden element is in your paragraph about Rinus MIchels and teambuilding. As a coach, you come up with the big picture design and vision for the elements you want for the team. Your big picture goals and capabilities. For example, a physical and motivational player in the center of the pitch and someone who breaks up the flow of the opponent to support the defense. Then, using these foundation elements, you begin the adventure of piecing together the talents and possibilities of your players to reach those goals and the serendipities beyond.

    Don’t underestimate a coach’s vision in providing a well-stocked kitchen to create the venue for players to create a delicious meal.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Steve some really good stuff. Paraphrasing what I learned in small group dynamics class in college (feels like 50 years ago) about balanced small groups. Important roles included 1. Leader 2. Central Negative (challenges the leader in a positive way to vet all functions of leadership versus blindly following) 3. Joker 4. Emotional Supporter 5. Active Follower. I’m not sure all of this relates to forming a soccer team but, I will say that all roles appear to be present on teams I’ve coached that have enjoyed the most success on and off the field. Players on teams that had these characteristics remain friends long after the competition is over.

    The only other inspiration I can draw from is derived from “The Talent Code”. When establishing a team principle and ethic of meaningful and purposeful engagement (Critical skill for a coach lead team) players are compelled to bring their best. Players who are incapable of engaging in a meaningful and purposeful way, each and every day cannot buy into the continuum of development that is part and parcel of the work I attempt to do each day with a team. You articulate this key notion in your commentary above when you speak of “setting the environment”.

    I think coaches play a critical role in setting the environment. I have heard it said often, “you can tell that is a Steve Davis team”. The role you play in the players adopting your personality and expectation is a critical ingredient to players finding their role and committing to it and while there is tremendous benefit to team performance when this happens, it is often every bit as impactful to individual growth and understanding.


  5. Great Metaphor Ruth, The coach must set the framework for team in addition to empowering the players, not just the best player, or players who see eye to eye with the coach. They must empower the players to be the most effective leaders, (each in their own way) to put the needs of the team first, and to trust their fellow teammates. Once they have the clear expectations set, and a team that trusts each other, they are on their way to having a team with good chemistry. It all starts with the coach (or actions of the coach), showing your players that you trust them (not coaching every touch, every movement, making every decision for them etc) is, in my opinion, a great start.


  6. This is great Brad. Empowering our players is a must if we expect them to be leaders and make decisions. Too often we see coaches who dictate through their training sessions and games, and yet they expect their players to be creative. We cannot expect any player to think and be creative in games if we don’t empower them to make decisions during training.


  7. Steve,

    Once again great article to share. As Chris Panayiotou wrote please keep them coming! Educating each other will not only make us better as coaches but also as leaders to the people around us.

    Loved the part in this article about ” Managing different personalities is never easy, but I have found one of the simplest ways to do so is by listening.” I know that this is one of the aspects where I’m looking on improving in the near future.

    Once again thanks Steve


  8. Great points all! I always find that the beauty of a great team is the balance in the personalities and having them support one another on the field and in sessions. Wow -that story about the family is so powerful and a great reminder that you never know what is going on with any given person or family all the time – I think a good coach stays in tune with their players and can tell when something is off or when … all the pieces of the puzzle are in the right places!


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