Great teams have it, bad teams need it, but what is it exactly? Every year professional sports talk finds itself at some point during their respective seasons, focused on the issue of team chemistry and its impact on team success. The 2K League is no different and if we are being completely honest, chemistry which we will discuss here, extends into every aspect of humanity where individuals form a team to accomplish a shared goal. Whether it be in the world of business, education, the medical field, sports, esports, etc. chemistry is vital to that team’s success.
It is worth pausing for a moment to define what I mean when I say the word chemistry. It is not uncommon to see debate on social media and in casual discussion over the importance of chemistry. On closer examination we can see what typically creates disagreement is that the sides debating the issue have entirely different understanding of the term and are arguing two entirely different things. Insomuch as it applies to this article, I am defining chemistry as the shared mindset amongst the members of a team that allows them to achieve a common goal. Notice what I did not say. I did not say that chemistry is that which is dependent upon the “BFF” status of the team members. In truth, it is not necessary for a team to develop a “buddy-buddy” relationship in order for successful chemistry to exist. In my experience, buddy type relationships have at times created stumbling blocks due to their influence on the ability of team members to uphold certain dynamics (shared mindset) that must be in place to achieve success. A good example of this would be the success experienced by Shaq and Kobe with the Lakers in the early 2000’s. While their relationship off the court was strained to put it mildly, when they stepped on the court their ability to put their off-court differences aside in pursuit of winning allowed them to win not one, but three NBA championships. Ultimately those personal differences grew such that the relationship would deteriorate to the point the two could not co-exist and pursue success together leading to the parting of the two superstars. However, what they showed was that successful on-court chemistry did not rely on their off-court relationship, but their ability to maintain a professional respect for each other while on the court. If team members can develop close friendships in pursuit of success and still hold each other accountable in chasing success then they have done something truly wonderful, the point however is that it is not a necessity.
Which brings me to those characteristics that make up the “shared mindset,” in combination with some external factors that engender great team chemistry. For the sake of brevity this list is not all-inclusive but will certainly present some aspects to be aware of for those with a discerning eye as Season Three of the 2K League kicks off. As the season progresses and some teams develop great chemistry while others do not, a team’s ability to/not to create chemistry will undoubtedly be a reflection of their development of these qualities along with several others.
One of the first aspects I will be looking for on teams is whether or not they have strong leadership. Leadership in and of itself is a topic that I could write a doctoral dissertation on, as supported by the thousands of books on “Leadership” for sale on Amazon. Abstaining from leadership “types” and “methodologies” and for the purpose of this article strong leadership should be understood as leadership that creates culture that team members will adopt and that leads to success. How that leadership manifests itself will be different from team to team so the “right” type of leadership is simply that leadership which leads to success. How do we know if leadership is poor? I’m glad you asked. There are definitive markers to watch for, such as the reaction of team members to communication from those identified as team leaders. Is the team’s reaction one of confident resolve or is there dissention and arguing? In response to leadership does the body language of the team give the impression they are united and more locked in, or does their body language remind you of a five-year old whose mommy said no in the toy aisle at Wal-Mart?
Again, leadership is a grandiose topic, but continuing on the next quality of the shared mindset is Personal Accountability. The retired Navy Seal and combat veteran Jocko Willink has a phenomenal Ted talk on YouTube discussing the idea of Ownership and I highly recommend it for anyone reading this article. It is well worth the watch, but I digress. The importance of personal accountability in the development of team chemistry is crucial. If a player is a blame assigner, finger pointer, or the constant critic that accepts no fault of their own, then chemistry at least as far as that player is concerned, is doomed. When a player takes ownership of their shortcomings there is a freedom that player experiences from the anxiety of carrying on a façade of being perfect. For a coach, when a player knows they made a mistake and owns it, it allows the coach to dwell less on the error and refocus, motivate, reenergize the player towards the next play and the goal at hand.
As was mentioned in the relationship between Shaq and Kobe, professional respect is another crucial aspect in developing team chemistry. For professional respect to exist, members of a team must earn each other’s trust. Trust that leads to professional respect can be found in answering some questions like the following; Can you trust that your teammate is going to do their job to the best of their ability? Can you trust that your teammate wants to succeed just as much as you and will not allow outside influences or selfish pursuits to interfere with accomplishing the goal? Can you trust your teammate to pick you up when you need it and vice versa? Can you trust that your teammate will not quit until the job is accomplished? If a team can answer yes to all of those, then trust that creates professional respect and leads to great chemistry on court exists.
The last aspect I am going to cover in this article, though by no means is it the last aspect that leads to great chemistry, is the aspect of Buy-in. Do all team members believe in the vision and mission of the team or is the team merely a group of self-centered individuals pursuing different goals? If team members do not buy-in to the vision and mission then it is extremely difficult for chemistry to develop, and it’s easy to see why. A player that is selfish and only interested in self-serving pursuits that do not align with the pursuits of the team will inevitably lead to unhealthy confrontation, dissention, and destroy chemistry. These types of players often garner the nickname of being “toxic” and more often times than not, their history validates the nickname that follows them..
Much more could be said concerning the aspects that create chemistry, but one thing will be certain as Season Three of the 2K League kicks off, teams that have developed great chemistry will outperform those that do not, as obvious as that may seem. Those that become dysfunctional and toxic will undoubtedly be lacking the aspects in this article as well as many more.