Sports Psychology: Developing Team Resilience

Hybrid Performance Method
October 28, 2019 (1 week ago)

Read Time: 2-3 minutes

Written by Rachel Cunningham

In the first recorded study of team resilience in sport, it was defined as “a dynamic psychosocial process which protects a group of individuals from the potential negative effect of the stressors they collectively encounter” (Morgan et al., 2013). It involves a culmination of individual resources and capabilities that culminate to allow the group to deal with experiences of adversity. It sounds simple, it sounds obvious, and the word resilience can often be thrown around a lot as if it is something that people ‘just do’. But
team resilience is something that requires key ingredients to foster.
Four key characteristics of teams have been identified as contributing to team resilience:

● Group structure (group norms, values and conventions)

● Mastery approaches (shared attitudes and behaviours that focus on team

● Social capital (quality and caring relationships within the team)

● Collective Efficacy (a shared belief in the ability to complete a task)
Building on this, further research identified that it is also the psychosocial processes within a team that contribute to team resilience (Morgan et al., 2015):

● Transformational Leadership (leaders who imbue inspirational, offer personalised and emotional support)

● Shared team leadership (distribution of leadership during adversity)

● Social identity (a distinctive team identity that positions them as belonging to a unique group)

● Positive emotions (use of humour and ‘banter’ during difficult situations)
It is therefore a dynamic process and not simply something that teams possess. This offers the potential for teams to develop it. However, a majority of the work so far has focused on what resilience involves, but not necessarily how it develops. Given that the above factors may need long term interventions and require changes at the cultural levels, one of the means by which teams can promote resilience is through coaches.
Resilience building programs in coaching psychology have more recently been put into practice to increase wellbeing and performance. Approaches in coaching that are cognitive-behavioural and solution-focused have been implemented and found to increase self-confidence, enhance goal attainment, reduce depression and stress (Grant et al., 2009).

Developing resilience at the group level must be distinguished from working at the individual level. The focus needs to first be on the shared experience. Firstly, a discussion needs to take place with the team members on the experiences of experiences that stress the team as a whole. This may be something such as a bad match, relegation etc. This draws awareness to stressors that teams have faced and potentially already surpassed. In doing so it is possible to foster the resources the team already has in place. This then allows the coach to assess which psychosocial processes need work. For instance, a team may have well-developed mastery approaches but lack in collective efficacy. To promote collective efficacy the coach might choose to focus on promoting belief statements in their pre-match briefings.

Another focus could be on developing transformational leadership to ensure team members are all on the same wavelength. The coach/managers need to create a convincing team vision that is reiterated during adversity and setbacks to generate collective sense-making.
Team learning strategies is another way of identifying what is useful in stressful situations and drawing attention to ‘what works’. This may take the form of ‘what if’ scenarios or what is known as error exposure drills. In these drills, teams are faced with stressors to provide them with strategies to cope when these arise in competition. Examples of transformational
leadership are the stuff of inspirational sports movies. Buried in the melodrama, there is an element of truth, that when presented with a vision, teams can rise to the occasion and achieve victory over any adversity. this shared sense of vision can be trained in the practice, to reframe adversity positively and define a path to victory.

Ultimately the form of resilience development will depend upon the context and the issues facing a team at a given time. Some stressors will also be sport-specific others situation-specific. That’s why involving all of the stakeholders in team in the development of resilience is key to any coaching approaches that seek to develop it.


Grant, A. M., Curtayne, L., & Burton, G. (2009). Executive coaching enhances goal attainment, resilience and workplace well-being: A randomized controlled study.
Journal of Positive Psychology, 4, 396-407
Morgan, P. B. C., Fletcher, D., & Sarkar, M. (2013). Defining and characterizing team
resilience in elite sport. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 14, 549–559.
Morgan, P. B. C., Fletcher, D., & Sarkar, M. (2015). Understanding team resilience in the
world’s best athletes: A case study of a rugby union world Cup winning team.
Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 16, 91–100.


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