Team Chemistry: Made in Heaven or Sent from Hell?

contributed by Peter Andrew Sacco, Ph.D. (Niagara Falls, ON)

IN TODAY’S HOCKEY WORLD, two concepts are always being pushed forth as the making of a competitive, potential championship team: Chemistry and Systems.

Systems are the styles, techniques, and methods of operation teams use to play their brand of hockey. The system is as only as effective and dominant as the make-up of the team goes. Of course, this make-up relies heavily on team chemistry!

I have played hockey, no where near the professional level, but have been around pro hockey players, coaches and teams to learn first hand that chemistry wins championships and not sheer talent.

As a matter of fact, NHL teams prior to the salary cap era stockpiled all-stars hoping to win championships only to make quick exits from the playoffs. Organizations thought that money alone could win championships…not the case!You could have all the elite talent in the world and not get a sniff of the Stanley Cup. What you had in many cases were salaried “all-star” teams playing entertaining pond hockey. Don’t believe it?

Take a look at the Washington Capitals in the 2009 playoffs. They had and still have an elite team which could not play shutdown hockey, the system needed to win playoff hockey!

This requires sacrifice, dedication, playing roles one normally doesn’t play–greater team chemistry. Make no bones about it, Washington, along with Detroit, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia are loaded with talent and if they could ever put it together soon, they will be hoisting the cup like the Pens. It’s all about chemistry and what players are willing to put in!

Chemistry is a very interesting entity.

bigstockphoto_Team_Hockey_Celebration_On_The_2596017It is not talent, but rather a collection of talent honed together to create beautiful music on the ice much like a symphony. Every orchestra has its individual components and talent; instruments, maestro and individual experiences. They are blended together to become beautiful music. The making of great team chemistry is also like beautiful music led by a maestro, in this case the coach and put together by the director, in this case the general manager.

Hockey is probably the most profound team sport with football following on its heels when it comes to relying on teammates to do their jobs and work together as a unit. When it comes to team, especially hockey, there is no “I” in the word team. Hockey is not a sport about individual stats, rather overall team performance.

Can team chemistry be taught? Absolutely! Can it be learned? Absolutely! Then why do so many teams and organizations lack it? It is all about personality and character.

Some players are exceptional individual players loaded with talent but they will not buy into the system the team uses. Instead, they prefer to work as a freelancer displaying their skills to the viewing audience. There are many talented players who could have been “great” players if they would have bought into the “team” concept. On the other hand, there are good players, like the Chris Drapers of the league who are “great” team players and foster team chemistry,  you know like that kind that makes the Red Wings a perennial favourite!

Team chemistry is all about leaving ego and personal agendas at the door. It is buying into what the coach is preaching and the team is teaching. Team chemistry is about making change and literally “taking one” for the team.

Some teams will lose a lot of games when the coach can no longer get his message across and get players to work as a unit. This is why often times when a new coach takes over the team, the team starts to player better…they are getting the new message and buying into the new system!

I have found that over the last decade or so, coaches in the NHL have become not only coaches but shrinks as well. They are constantly forced to re-invent the wheel and get into their players’ heads so they will show up game in and night out. Furthermore, if the coach can facilitate a great working environment with his core players, they will foster and maintain good team chemistry. The team then becomes accountable to the core players. This core represents the aspirations of the coach. They are the right mix for team chemistry!

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