Being a sports team coach is no longer just about tactics and drills. The psychology behind resilience, mental toughness, cohesion, adaptability, motivation and ultimately team performance is becoming an ever more important string to the bow of a modern sports coach. Those ignoring psychology in sport are fast being left behind. So what is it that a coach actually needs to know when it comes to creating a great team?

Become an identity leader – do you CARE?

Sports psychology is fast becoming a crucial part of an individual athletes skillset. Whether it’s controlling your chimp, mental imaging or dealing with the psychological effects of injury recovery, psychologists are now an integral part of the elite sport set up. Yet, new research and analysis using the perspective of in-group membership suggests that the role of a leader is often far more crucial to resilience, group cohesion and ultimately performance.

Professor Alex Haslam has researched this in-depth publishing many papers and books on the subject. His research has found that for leaders to be effective they need to be seen as being in the same group as the followers they want to influence – “One of Us”. Leaders that Create, Advance, Represent and Embed a clear and meaningful identity are viewed as more persuasive, motivating and inspirational by their team.

This is known as the CARE model. Do you CARE about your team?


How are you developing an understanding of what it means to be a member of the team? How are you shaping the teams values?


How are you acting as a champion for the team? How are you promoting their interests?


How are you being a model member of this team? How are you embodying what the group stands for?


What structures have you put in place that are useful for the team? What events are you arranging that help the group function effectively?


Build a team identity – CARE about your TRIBE

The research evidence for the benefits of creating a strong identity for sports teams is now overwhelming. It’s been shown to increase resilience, trust, well-being and creativity. Our own research in collaboration with Sussex University has shown it can even increase team performance by up to a remarkable 53%.

We took our research findings and built a practical methodology that enables a leader to systematically create, embed and reinforce the identity motives in their team to create a strong performance enhancing identity. It enables a leader to influence, in a structured and progressive way, the deeply held beliefs about what it means to belong to their team. The methodology is called TRIBE which is an acronym for the beliefs that motivate team identification.

Traditions – Our golden thread. How past events have shaped the team, connecting the past to the present and future.

Relevance – Our purpose. Why what the team does matters, is meaningful and relevant.

Identity – Our edge. The distinctive edge, the “magic” that gives the team an “unfair” advantage?

Belonging – Our glue. What holds the team together, so members feel included and accepted.

Effectiveness – The capabilities the team needs to succeed.

We have used TRIBE to develop teams and leaders in 40+ organisations. Beyond corporations, TRIBE has been part of senior officer strategic leadership training in the British Army, Royal Navy and RAF and we have run numerous team development offsites for 2-star Generals, Admirals and Air Vice Marshals and their teams. More recently sports teams have begun to use TRIBE, including the GB Women’s Hockey team, Gold Medallists at the Rio Olympics and voted team of the games by the International Olympic Associations. It is used because it works!

If you want to learn more about the science behind high performance in sports teams, download our free white paper. If you want to learn our pioneering new approach to creating a team identity – TRIBE – come on our sports coach leadership training course. You’ll come away with exercises, strategies and tools to increase team identity and become an effective identity leader. By doing so, you’ll learn how to motivate, engage and inspire your team to high performance.

About the author…

Dr Will Thomas

Dr Will Thomas

Head of research at Great Teams Academy

I work with organisations, leaders and teams across business, sport and the military in providing evidenced-based yet practical solutions. At great teams academy, my role is ensuring that what we do is based on real science. I continue to research and apply a scientifically driven approach to team and leadership development as an honorary research fellow at University of Sussex.


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