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Team cohesion – How did this effect the Lion’s tour?


The British and Irish Lions tour is rather unique within the sporting world – a mixture of players from four different international teams coming together to take on one team in a three-test series. Within the 2017 tour, the Lions travelled with 16 English players, 12 Welsh, 11 Irish and only 2 Scottish players before injuries and call ups were added. What makes the Lions tour so interesting is that these players were up until a few weeks before the tour started competing against one another. To make matters even harder, the Lions were tasked with beating arguably the best team in world rugby: The New Zealand All Blacks. Carron et al. (2005) questions whether a group with more in common are likely to be more cohesive as opposed to one that is diverse with less in common, which may lead to the formation of cliques.

Cohesion may have played a vital part in the Lions managing to draw the series. Cohesion is defined as a dynamic process that is reflected in the tendency of 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, Brawley & Widmever, 1998). Put simply, cohesion means how likely a team are to stay together to reach a common goal.

Cohesion is split into team cohesion and social cohesion. Team cohesion refers to the degree to which a team work together to reach their goal or objective. Social cohesion is the interpersonal relationships and behaviours between group members. With regards to the Lions, it could be assumed that team cohesion would have naturally been high – these players are all professionals who representing the Lions is an honour as put by Lion Maro Itoje: “No matter when you start playing rugby or how long you’ve played rugby, you want to be part of the British & Irish Lions – I’m absolutely over the moon to have the opportunity to do so”

However, within the desire to represent the Lions there were only three tests in order for the players to achieve a full Lions cap. MacPherson and Howard (2011) highlighted that in a short-term group environment where there is fierce competition for places, there is a heightened chance of conflict as there may be little room for sentiment amongst players. Any news of conflict between players was kept out of the media within the 2017 tour.

One way to overcome any conflict within teams is to focus on group norms. Group norms are the standards that are put in place to regulate the behaviours of members of that particular group. They are set out around the following areas: competition (game preparation, work ethic, mindset and team behaviour), practice (mindset, practice preparation, team behaviour and work ethic) and social situations (interaction and participation) (Munroe et al. 1999).

Creating cohesion within your team is a vital way to get the most out of your squad. There have been a number of psychological studies which have shown how important cohesion can be with regards to performance. A review of studies by Widmeyer, Carron and Brawley (1993) found that 83% of studies reported a positive relationship between cohesion and performance, with higher team cohesion linked to too greater team success. For more information on how to help improve cohesion within your own team, please feel free to contact me.

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