While visiting my parents last week, I went in my old room to look for a book I wanted to read. It had been a long time since I had stayed in that room for more than a minute and it was nice to see that nothing had been moved or changed. The desk where I used to sit for hours studying offensive and defensive plays was still there. This desk had always been my domain, neither mom or dad had ever set hand to it and the drawers were full of 8 years' worth of junk. But going through this junk was kind of cool, old letters which I had put aside to answer but never did, what had once seemed so important now looking antique, postcards that I had bought but never mailed. I was getting ready to get up from my chair when I saw an old photo. It was 1999, 16 year old PanamaSun (skinny as hell) along with my team mates from the National Team. We were at a party after beating Puerto Rico in the Tournament Finals. I played for my country since I was 14 years old until I turned 20, and this team in the picture is, by far, the best one that I have been a part of. We weren't as talented as you may think. My scouting report probably said the following: P-Sun, average shooter, force him to his left hand, If he's double teamed he'll freak out, very emotional, make sure to taunt him and he will lose his temper. Truth is that we were an average team and it's not like we held hands after each game either. As a matter of fact there were guys on the team that I didn't like. So what made us a good team?
Was it team chemistry? But I just mentioned we didn't like each other...
Does team chemistry exist? And most importantly, does it affect a teams performance?
The first question is an easy one to answer. Yes. It does exist and sport's psychologists define it as a group dynamic that occurs when members of a team work together and make a united effort to accomplish goals and objectives of the collective whole.
But could it be possible that team chemistry has nothing to do with performance at all? Maybe good chemistry is a by-product of the teams success, who knows..
To me (and many people) Team Chemistry could be determined by:
- Social Cohesion: Team mates like each other, they go out for dinner, they love to hang out, they feel like family, they enjoy each others' company.
- Task Cohesion: Teams ability to focus on a specific goal and perform well and effectively on the court.
Having a team with a high amount of social cohesion means very little when it comes down to predict your teams performance on the court. It's way more important to show task cohesion, meaning that if they play together and remain united throughout the season, they'll have a better shot at enjoying success.
Unlike many people think, players that don't like each other at a personal level can play well together.
Think about it. Before the Shaq trade everyone was talking about how Marion was a cancer to the team, that everyone was upset because of his attitude. But did this ever show on the court? Did Nash deny the ball to Shawn? Do you remember Raja Bell missing a three point shot because he was upset at Marion or Amar'e or anyone? The answer is no.
On the other hand we noticed that Boris Diaw was unable to perform while playing beside Stat. I'm sure they liked each other, I'm sure they hung out and stuff but the on-court chemistry (task cohesion) was awful.
Task cohesion goes beyond liking each other and for this to happen everyone should know their role and stick to it. Role players following the leaders and all leaders being on the same page.
Chemistry is why the Suns never made it to the playoffs this year (among other things). Role players were not accepting their roles. Both leaders, Shaq and Nash were never on the same page and we saw this every single night without the need of listening to Shaq's post games interviews saying that the way to reach a championship was through him, while on the other side of the locker room Nash was saying that they needed to run more.
Believe it or not, chemistry plays a huge role in the NBA. It's the reason why coaches get fired and players get traded, and it's the reason why very talented teams don't reach their ultimate goal.