Team Building for Youth Sports: A Coach's Playbook

Tim Gusweiler
team building activities for youth sports
team building activities for youth sports
Teamwork is the foundation of any successful sports team. 
When players on your team build strong relationships, it makes life much easier as a coach or parent.
One of the fastest ways to build a strong sense of teamwork is to organize team building activities before your season. The key to a successful team building activity is to make it a fun event, emphasize collaboration, and involve everyone - including players, coaches, and parents.
In this post, we’ll go over some benefits of team building activities and share some ideas you can use before your next season.

The importance of team building in youth sports

Why is it important to use team building activities for your youth sports team? Team building activities can lead to better player communication, increased trust, and positive team culture. 
Plus, players with strong friendships are bound to have more fun practicing and playing games throughout the year.
Even college and professional teams use team building activities to strengthen social relationships and improve on-field performance.

Improve communication and collaboration among team members

“Teamwork makes the dream work,” as they say. Most team building activities will help improve player communication skills and teach athletes to become team players and work toward a common goal.
a soccer coach working with his players on team building
Regardless of your team’s age or skill level, have a few fun team building activities throughout your season.

Build trust and camaraderie

Players need to trust one another and their coaches on the field. Fun team building activities can teach athletes to believe in one another and trust that their teammates have their back.

Foster a positive team culture

You need your players to be excited to be a part of the team and contribute to the overall success. Working together on tough challenges during preseason team building activities will build strong bonds throughout your season.

10 team building activities for kids sports

Do you need to brainstorm ideas for team building activities for your team? In this section, we’ll go over a few of our favorites, both on-field and off-field. 
Try to find a few preseason team building activities, and continue to add more fun activities during your season as needed.

On-field team building activities

Try to have at least one fun outdoor activity at the end of your first few practices. Players should look forward to the friendly competition before they head home.

1. Relay races

Relay races are the easiest team building activity you can organize. You can make it competitive by giving a reward to the first team that wins.
Here are a few relay race ideas depending on the sport you coach:
  • If you coach a basketball team, you can split your team up into teams of three or four for a dribbling relay race that ends with a layup for each player. To make it extra fun, make the players shoot the layup backward or bounce the ball off the floor into the basket.
  • Outdoor sports like football or baseball, you can do classic wheelbarrow races with teams of two.
  • Track and Field teams can do a typical 4x100 relay, but mix things up to make it fun. Include athletes that normally participate in different events like throws or long distance in the sprint, and make your sprinters bear crawl instead of run (just make sure each team has one bear crawler 🙂).
  • Volleyball teams can have a relay race to see which team can each hit a serve into a small target (like a ball cart).
If possible, have your coaches participate in the relay race. Including coaches can help create a bond between players and coaches while adding extra fun to the activity.

2. Obstacle courses

Every kid loves a good obstacle course. If you have the time, you can also take your team to a local obstacle course. 
Most cities have several outdoor or indoor obstacle courses at local parks or recreation facilities. Make sure to make the challenge a team effort - ideally, a few obstacles will require players to work together to complete the obstacle.
If there’s a race nearby, you could sign your team up for a Mud Run or Obstacle Race where they can compete together.

3. Team building conditioning activities

No kid enjoys conditioning activities. Adding a team element is one way to make the exercise more fun. Players will encourage one another and build stronger relationships by completing a difficult challenge as a group. 
For example, you could have players bear crawl a long distance (like a mile) as a group. While one player is bear crawling, the others rest and cheer on their teammate. Depending on the size of your team, each player could bear crawl about 100 yards, and benefit from encouraging their teammates while they rest.
a baseball team huddle
Pre-season team building activities can lead to a tight-knit team during your season.

4. Human knot

The human knot is a popular team-building exercise for sports, educational programs, and even corporate environments. 
Get the team to stand in a circle. This activity works well with 8 to 20 people, although it can be adapted for smaller or larger groups. 
Instruct everyone to reach out with their right hand and grab the hand of someone standing across the circle from them. They should not grab the hand of the person immediately next to them. Then have them reach out with their left hand and grab a different person's hand.
At this point, everyone should be holding hands with two different people, and their arms should be entangled, forming the "knot."
The objective now is for the team to work together to untangle the knot without letting go of each other's hands. They will have to communicate, cooperate, and strategize to gradually untangle themselves.

5. Pass the hula hoop

Have the team members stand in a circle or in a straight line, depending on your preference and space available.
Instruct everyone to hold hands with the person next to them. Place a hula hoop over one person's arm, so it rests between two team members who are holding hands. The goal is to pass the hula hoop around the circle or down the line without letting go of each other's hands.
To add some difficulty, time the team to see how fast they can complete the challenge, or you can introduce multiple hula hoops traveling in opposite directions.

6. Group jump rope

Assemble the team, and decide on the groups that’ll be jumping together. You can have two to four or even more people jumping at the same time, depending on the length of the rope.
the goal is for the group to jump over the rope together without getting tangled or missing a jump. You can set a target number of consecutive jumps or see how many jumps the group can achieve in a set time.

Off-field team building activities

Off-field team building exercises take a little more work to organize. But, you can involve players, coaches, and even parents to build a strong sense of community throughout your team.

7. Meet the Team Night

Meet the Team Night is an easy way to get coaches, players, and parents together before your season starts. You can have a team meal at a parent’s home or a local restaurant (you can even make the event a fundraiser for your team).
Allow the coach to speak for a few minutes to share goals for the season and answer any questions from parents.

8. Sports-themed scavenger hunts

If you have a young team (ages 6-10), a scavenger hunt can be a fun way to get the players working together.  If your players are new to the sport, you can use the scavenger hunt to help them learn basic concepts and rules.
Make the scavenger hunt somewhat quick (about 15 minutes) and not too tricky.

9. Community service projects and volunteer work

Community service is a popular team building activity for youth and high school sports teams. Find a Saturday when you don’t have a game and spend a few hours volunteering. You can use to find opportunities in your community.
There are lots of youth sports charities your team can support as well. You could allow your team to pick a charity to support and work together toward a donation goal at the end of the season.

10. Overnight camps

If you coach a high school or travel team, consider running an overnight camp a few weeks before your season. Overnight camps can help your team gear up with extra practices, and provide plenty of team bonding opportunities.
Make sure to try to include several fun activities for players each day to go along with difficult training and conditioning.

Leadership and communication in team building

One of the biggest benefits of youth sports participation is developing social skills. During team building activities you should place an emphasis on teamwork, effective leadership, and quality communication.

Developing leadership skills

Youth sports are a great opportunity for kids to develop basic leadership skills. Every player should have an opportunity throughout the season to be a leader.
  • Encouraging different players to take a leadership role in each team building activity. Don’t allow the same kid to always be in the leadership position.
  • Teach players to listen when their teammate is speaking.

Promoting effective communication

Communication skills should improve throughout your season. Communication isn’t a one way street from coaches to players. 
  • Encourage players to do most of the talking, not coaches.
  • Implement regular “player meetings” when each player can talk about the team’s progress, previous games, and areas for the team to improve.
  • Encourage players to give one another constructive feedback.

Sportsmanship and fair play in team building

Teaching sportsmanship should be a constant focus whether you’re coaching 5-year old players or 25-year old athletes. You can use your team building activities as an opportunity to set sportsmanship expectations for your season.

Promoting sportsmanship

  • Emphasize respect for opponents. For example, you can require teammates to shake hands with one another after a fun after-practice relay race.
  • Recognize and celebrate acts of sportsmanship. You can even ask players after the game to share examples of their teammates showing good sportsmanship. This can be particularly useful to young players who need to learn basic sportsmanship skills.

Fostering fair play

Team building activities are an opportunity to practice integrity for the real game.
  • Create a culture of fairness and integrity. You can require that players officiate themselves during team building activities. Any arguments or rule disagreements need to be resolved respectfully between players.
  • Address issues of cheating or unsportsmanlike behavior. Make sure it is unacceptable for players to bend the rules during team building activities. Players that violate the rules repeatedly can be removed from the game, or suspended from future activities.

Tips for running team building activities

two youth football players bonding after a game
Team building activities lead to stronger bonds between players throughout your season.
Ideas are easy, but execution is everything. Follow these tips to keep your team building activities fun from your first practice, through the end of the season.

Understand your team's needs and dynamics

  • Assess your team’s weaknesses before planning team building activities. Does your team need better verbal communication skills? Are a few players taking all of the leadership roles? Do they just need to have more fun? Before planning your team building activities, decide where you would like to see improvement.
  • Adjusting activities based on age. If you’re coaching a soccer team of 4 year olds, try a 10 minute scavenger hunt rather than a 1-hour scavenger hunt. Think about what your team can handle and schedule appropriately so your team isn’t overwhelmed or bored.

Organize engaging activities

  • Change up the routine throughout the season. Try different fun team building games at the end of practice before settling on a favorite.
  • Encourage participation from coaches and parents. Involvement from adults in the team building activities can build friendships throughout the organization.

Evaluate and monitor the impact

  • Discuss with players which team bonding activities they enjoy and why.
  • Ask parents and coaches if they’ve noticed a difference in player communication and camaraderie.
  • Notice if more players are taking on leadership roles during practices and games.
  • Evaluate if you’re noticing more overall team spirit from coaches, players, and parents.

Final thoughts

Fun and engaging team building is a key part of starting a youth sports league. You can use them as icebreakers in the beginning of a season, or to develop problem solving and communication skills during ot. Ideally, you want to have severall on-field and off-field team building activities on hand. 
Remember to include more than just athletes in your team building activities. Events can also include coaches, parents, and volunteers. Successful team building activities can help you build a stronger community of players, coaches, volunteers, and parents while leading to more on-field success.
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