Leadership Theme of the Month: Support

Support: give approval, comfort or encouragement to; be capable of fulfilling a role adequately; comfort and emotional help offered to someone in distress

Everyday we encounter moments when we need a shoulder to lean on, a friendly word of advice or encouragement, and constructive criticism to help us overcome an obstacle. These are all components of support, without which it would be incredibly difficult to function as individuals or as effective teams. There are numerous articles written about the importance of support within business and how it is a crucial ingredient needed for successful business teams to flourish—sport teams are no different.

Players have to support one another on and off the soccer field, not just physically- as in moving into an open position or passing the ball- but also emotionally. When a teammate’s confidence is shaken after missing a shot, a supportive player will be able to provide comfort and encouragement, enabling the teammate to regain focus and the courage to try again. Understanding and accepting the psychological needs of each player is a key step to creating a supportive environment for growth.

Teams function best when each player supports every other player individually and the team collectively. As a player moves to an open space to provide an option for the player with the ball, he/she is supporting not only the teammate but the entire team, since this action is contributing to the realization of the team’s objective to keep possession.

Support is also given through clear and constructive feedback. If a player needs to make a better pass in order for the team to maintain possession, a concise and honest discussion of the need for improvement should be had with the player. This is the role of the coach especially at the younger ages, but as the team matures, increasingly it becomes the role of the players to provide immediate and constructive feedback to each other.  A supportive team excels within this structure, since they know a simple “Hey, try to make a harder pass next time” is not a mean comment, but rather a supportive instruction to help the team as a whole. A team without good dynamics and support interprets feedback as criticism, leading to bickering and blame- I take it personally if Suzy tells me to make a better pass next time, instead of as a form of encouragement to improve for the benefit of the team.

Encouragement can be one of the best ways to provide support. It shows an invested interest in a person’s actions, and can help push them to continue to pursue their goal even as hurdles impede their way. However, it is important to distinguish between the usefulness of encouragement and the potential hindrance of praise. Too often we find ourselves saying “great kick” even when it was not a great kick, which can be detrimental since it promotes a negative action, or is false praise. A better way to send a message of encouragement would be “good effort, try to use the inside of the foot next time”. Of course, praise is important and valuable; it is just necessary to understand the correct moments to share praise and the best type of praise to give, focusing on the effort rather than the product (as explained by Carol Dweck in Mindset: the New Psychology of Success).

So how do teams learn to develop and show support? With time and within an environment that fosters team growth. They need to develop emotional and social bonds so that they are able to connect with one another and trust that everyone has the team’s best interest at heart. They need to understand the positive nature of constructive feedback, learning to accept critiques as a tool to help them improve and overcome mistakes, and not as a label of failure.


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