The Kilmacud Crokes is one Gaelic Athletic Association (GAA) club out of over 2,319 in Ireland and 215 in Dublin (GAA Clubs by Numbers). The club alone has about 65 teams including the Kilmacud Crokes Gaelic Football Adult Junior Team 3. This team consists of about 25 players and three coaches. Many members of the team have been playing together since they were six years old, while others have only been playing together for a short time. When looking at the team from the outside, they seem to be a fun bunch of guys who just love to play Gaelic football. While this is true on the inside, it also goes much deeper and may contribute to the success of the team.
What is Team Cohesion?
Team cohesion is defined as “a dynamic process which is reflected in the tendency for a group to stick together and remain united in the pursuit of its instrumental objectives and/or for the satisfaction of member affective needs” (Carron, Eys, Burke, 2007).
Many experts go as far as to say that it is the most important property in group dynamics. Team cohesion has four main characteristics: multidimensionality, dynamism, instrumentalism, and affectivity (Carron, Eys, Burke, 2007). Team cohesion has two primary constructs: social cohesion and task cohesion. The Kilmacud Crokes Gaelic football team greatly demonstrates these characteristics and constructs.
The Gaelic Athletic Association
The GAA is a community-based association. Most children start learning the games at age six. When they start at this age, they do not only learn the sports, but they learn the history of the GAA as well as some of the Irish language. The children play for the community they grow up in for most of their lives. The coaches for this age make it clear that the players are friends first and then competitors. The fact that the players start at a young age and play with the same people, it starts team cohesion at an early age. Some of this cohesion stems from playing for the same club for so long. The players are proud to be on the team and show their pride whenever possible.
The Kilmacud Crokes practice two-three times a week and have games weekly. Their practices typically last about an hour and a half. At the beginning of each practice the team members met by their bags, stretched, got dressed, etc. until the coach informed the captain to start warming the team up. The team then would go for a run around the fields together. They always ran together, not leaving anyone behind.
Once they completed their run, they would begin dynamic stretching followed by static stretching. Again, they would always do this together. During the dynamic stretches the coach would yell if anyone were behind. They needed to be synchronized. This was also true for the static stretches. The team would form a circle with the captain in the middle. He would begin the stretches and counting. After he finished counting, a different team member would take over the next count and so on. By doing the whole warm up together, it showed that the team was unified and working together.
After the warm up was complete, the team began their first drill. The coaches would give feedback, positive and negative, during the drills. After the drill was finished, the coach would bring the team in and the team stretched as he talked about what went well and what went wrong. As mentioned previously, team cohesion is multidimensional. The interactions between the coaches, team, and individual team members all affect team cohesion (Ryska, Yin, Cooley, 1999). When the coach would give both negative and positive feedback, it showed their coaching behaviors. If the coach were to only give negative feedback, it would most likely lead to a detrimental effect in the team’s cohesion. Giving positive feedback has been shown to lead to greater levels of task cohesion, which could be seen with the Kilmacud Crokes (Carron, Eys, Burke, 2007).
While task cohesion greatly contributes to team cohesion, social cohesion also plays a large role. When performing drills, the team remained focused and concentrated. However, when the team had downtime (before practice, water breaks, after practice, etc.) the players were always laughing and joking around. Some conversations that were had were about nights out together, girlfriends, festivals, and memories. These conversations showed the players got along outside of the game and were unified by more than just their football team. Many of the teammates had played together since childhood and had relationships outside of football built for awhile. There was one player who had just joined the team this year, but he was already accepted and liked by all. They welcome new players every year.
After having worked all week at practice, the games usually happened on the weekends. The Kilmacud Crokes typically arrived at the pitch (playing field) an hour before throw in. First, the players would change in the locker, followed by the coach coming in to give them a quick speech. About 40 minutes before the start time, the players would run onto the field and begin warming up. The warm up was usually the same as the practices. The captain would lead the team on a run, do dynamic stretching, static stretching, and then do a few short drills.
When there were five minutes left before the game, the team would bring all the equipment in and have a short talk. When they talked before, during, and after games the players huddled together, putting their arms around each other with the head coach in the center. It brought the team together as one as the coach gave the final pep talk. When shown the photo below and asked how the photo represents the team, Brian O’Connor, Kilmacud Crokes Gaelic football player, simply said, “one unit.”
Brian stated, “We do the huddle so we can get one level.”
Within team cohesion there are individual and group constructs: Individual Attractions to the Team-Task; Individual Attractions to the Team-Social; Group Task; Group Social. Within Gaelic football, each player had his own task. The players had different positions, jobs, and individual goals for that position reflecting Individual Attraction to the Team-Task. For Individual Attractions to the Team-Social component, players often had relationships off of the field with their teammates. Examples of this would be when certain players rode with each other to the games, went out after games together, and ultimately had their friend group. Group Integration-Task was seen with the Kilmacud Crokes huddled together and unified. This was when they talked about their goals as a team and what they needed to do to win the game. Group Integration-Social was seen when the team shared laughs and jokes at practices, games, etc. (Carron, Bray, and Eys, 2002).
“Individually we all have our jobs and win individual battles, but as a team there is a game plan we have to play to.”
When the referee blew his whistle, all the players ran onto the pitch. The Kilmacud Crokes always shook the hand of their opponent that they would be defending. This again showed the unity that all the clubs had: friends first and then opponents.
The game would start and right away things would turn violent. Gaelic football is a contact sport and tackles were constantly taking down players. Although the GAA does have set rules, the referees happened to miss a lot of the fouls. This led to rough games, constant swearing, and angry players and coaches.
Even when everyone would get mad, the minute an injury occurred, the players from both teams came together. Often times the substitutes or coaches would run water onto the pitch for the players to drink. The players would then share the water with their opponents. Once again this showed that the opposing teams were only enemies when the ball was in play. J.J. Shovlin, Kilmacud Croke Gaelic football player, stated, “by sharing water, it shows good sportsmanship. We always share our water with the opponents, it’s the respectful thing to do.”
After the first half of the game ended, the team would run off the pitch and move to the corner of the field. They would stretch as they waited for the coaches to finish meeting. Once the coaches were done, the players and coaches all huddled together with the main coach in the center. With the other two coaches joining in the huddle it showed how great of a relationship the players had with the coaches.
When asked about the relationship with the coaches Brian said, “Whether we like or not, that’s what John wants us to play to. He’s the boss and he calls the shots. Gives us instructions so we all know what we are doing. Everyone at this stage is conformed to the game plan. They know it works so they can’t really argue about it.”
When in the huddle, the coach and players would talk about positive and negative and what they wanted the outcome of the game to be. During most half times the coach would say, “It’s not about winning or losing. I don’t care if we lose as long as we can walk away saying we played the best game we could.”
The team’s goal was always to play the best that they could. Group goals have a positive correlation with group cohesiveness (Carron, Eys, Burke, 2007). After the huddle, the players would drink more water and run back onto the pitch to finish the game. No matter if it was a win or loss, the team came together to talk one last time. They only talked about positive things and then moved onto to talking about the next practices and games.
Many things contribute to team success including team cohesion. The Kilmacud Crokes demonstrated multiple aspects of team cohesion that could have lead to the success they had. As mentioned previously, they all set the same performance goal: to do the best they could. Having the players and coaches set goals together, like the Kilmacud Crokes, has been greatly associated with team success. Two other factors that relate to team cohesion are the size of the team and the level of the competition. Since the Kilmacud Crokes Club has so many teams, it allows for smaller teams. The Kilmacud Crokes Gaelic football team 3 was only about 20 people. This may have contributed to their success because it has been shown that as team size increases, cohesion decreases. With a smaller team like the Crokes, they know each other and their roles well, but still have enough teammates to be social with. Since the team is an adult junior team, the level of competition is less than that of a senior team. Task cohesion has been found to be greater in teams with a lower level of competition. Coaching behaviors also lead to cohesion and ultimately success. Since the head coach always said something positive along with the negative, they had greater cohesion, which could also be a reason that the team was so successful (Carron, Eys, Burke, 2007). The Kilmacud Crokes have only lost two games in the last six months and have been very successful.
“We win together and we lose together.”
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Carron, A. V., Eys, M. A., Burke, S. M., Jowett, S., & Lavallee, D. (2007). Team cohesion: nature, correlates, and development. Social psychology in sport, 91-101
GAA Clubs by Numbers. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.independent.ie/sport/gaelic-football/gaa-clubs-by-numbers-26534693.html
Ryska, T. A., Yin, Z., Cooley, D., & Ginn, R. (1999). Developing team cohesion: A comparison of cognitive-behavioral strategies of US and Australian sport coaches. The journal of Psychology, 133(5), 523-539.