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News How to build a winning team...according to a sport psychologist

As the new football season kicks off, a leading sport psychologist is sharing his research and new book on what it takes to build a winning team.

Dr Matt Slater's new book Togetherness: How to build a Winning Team
Image: Dr Matt Slater's new book Togetherness: How to build a Winning Team

In our research studies at Staffordshire University, we have found that in teams where leadership creates a strong sense of togetherness, athletes exert more effort – they are more committed to the group.

Dr Matt Slater, Senior Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Psychology

The old adage goes “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts”, but how can leaders unlock the collective power of their teams?

Dr Matt Slater, Senior Lecturer in Sport and Exercise Psychology at Staffordshire University, explained: “In sport, teams win matches, but teams with togetherness win championships, make history, and have an enduring legacy.

“In our research studies at Staffordshire University, we have found that in teams where leadership creates a strong sense of togetherness, athletes exert more effort – they are more committed to the group.”

In his new book Togetherness: How to Build a Winning Team, Matt explains how sports coaches and managers can inspire their teams to develop their skills and reach their potential by getting them ‘together’.

Underpinned by research conducted at Staffordshire and across the globe, the book explores how togetherness can drive high performance and well-being simultaneously in both sport teams and in the workplace.  

Examples of such teamwork include the All Blacks Rugby Union Team and their enduring success or Leicester City Football Club winning the English Premier League in the 2015/2016 season.

Matt and colleagues also discovered the power of the ‘togetherness’ in action during the UEFA Euro 2016 competition where their research showed that football teams who sang their national anthem with passion were more likely to win.

Matt said: “We think a football team’s rendition of its national anthem provides an insight into the level of togetherness in that team. Passionate singing signals a sense of team unity that profoundly says ‘we are ready to fight, going above and beyond, for our team’.”

The book includes memorable stories from the world of high-performance sport and also gives practical tips and activities based on the 3R model (Reflect, Represent, Realise) that can be learnt and completed with teams to unlock their togetherness.

The 3R model provides readers with a framework to take teams on a journey from “me” to “we”, but also has key messages for readers’ individual performance and well-being.

Matt said: “We have used the 3R model across a range of high-performance settings including international sport teams, business organisations, and the military.

“We find that the collective approach of the 3R model creates a sense of purpose and empowers those involved. This book helps leaders in all walks of life bring their team, department, or organisation together.”

So, how can football teams vying for Premier League glory use this to help them claim the title?

Matt said: “The twenty teams starting the Premier League this weekend all have their own unique team identity. Key is that they focus on their vision, values, and behaviours rather than trying to be something that they are not.

“Some simple points to look for when enjoying the matches are: 1) do teams celebrate goals together, or are some players not involved? 2) do teams react collectively following conceding a goal including leadership that encourages “us” to keep focused? and 3) do the coaches and players use collective language in interviews? A team that is together speaks about their team in “we” and “us” terms and not “me” and “they” terms.”

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