Work Rate and Culture within a Team Sport Environment by Jamy Clamp

[This is a guest blog by Jamy Clamp. Jamy is an Undergraduate Sports Science Student at Loughborough University, currently Interning at Athletic Lab as a Performance Coach.]

A team is a group of players that come together to achieve a common goal (Kozlowski and Bell, 2001). The common goal is the vital aspect of that definition. Without a common goal, in terms of what the team wants to achieve, they are a crowd, not a team. Teams have an identity, share their purpose and have a structured communication system.

london-underground-station-compThe pictures summarize thispoint perfectly. On the London Underground, London’s predominant transportation network, everyone wants to get on, but very few people talk and the large majority jump off at different stations. The New Zealand Rugby team, however, have a unique identity in the Haka and their black jersey. That identity, in itself, creates a sense of pride and an emotional attachment to the environment. As coaches and support staff, we should want to develop a team that cares about the way that they represent the particular team.

At the core of this topic is Social Learning Theory (SLT). Essentially, SLT refers to the process by which we learn from our friends, family, idols and teammates (Bandura, 1977). Instinctively, we learn as children about what is acceptable and what is not. Within a sporting environment, where social status is often of significant importance, SLT can become a problematic element of Sports Performance. It might not be an immediate effect, but, as a behavior becomes more frequent, the chances of other team members acting in a similar manner increase. For example, one player that doesn?t train with intensity or desire has the potential to not only unsettle teammates, but also suggest that lacking intensity is acceptable. Unsettled teams, generally, don?t perform particularly well (Deeprose, 1995). Then, there is the additional obstacle of a behavior that becomes engrained within the team. Behavior that is deemed the norm is notoriously difficult to change.

Steiners model of team productivity (1972) links into SLT, particularly in sport. Essentially, team productivity is equal to potential productivity minus losses due to faulty processes (Widmeyer et al, 1990). Simply put, the faulty process would be fluctuations in work rate and, therefore, productivity would suffer.

allblacksRespect also has a role to play in work rate. The respect and social hierarchy that we give, and we often do just give out respect like it?s a free pen, is integral to keeping a team running smoothly. I highlight the amount of respect we have for people because it?s important to ensure humility is maintained in a team. A lot of players want to be respected, however, it?s essential to remind them that they are an ingredient towards the overall success of the team.

Humility is central to everything that the All Blacks do. Senior members of the squad clean up after themselves and they support new players who have been selected (Kerr, 2013). That is something that Athletic Lab has stressed to us as Interns. Ultimately, not many people are above taking on the unpleasant roles.

Learning from others is not always a negative thing. In almost every team, there is at least one character that younger members of the team idolize and can learn a lot from. Using the All Blacks as an example again, Brad Thorne was one of the Senior members of the 2011 World Cup Winning Squad. He placed significant emphasis on the mantra of ?champions do extra? (Kerr, 2013). That mantra has evidently been carried throughout the younger players, which is part of the reason why the All Blacks continue to dominate International Rugby Union. Again, coaches can capitalize on those characters and give them specific roles that promote leadership.

How can we create a culture that feeds off of work rate?

  1. Set team standards. A few common ones are punctuality, listening, commitment, integrity and humility. This should be one of the first things to clarify. Ideally, the team should know what?s expected.
  2. Develop goals that are realistic. Having a target that requires hard work will improve work ethic.
  3. Choose leaders within the team wisely. Leadership isn?t a popularity contest. It?s a matter of who has a positive influence on the team.
  4. Invest time in understanding individual players and give equal amounts of respect to them. A coach that genuinely cares has a greater chance of developing work rate.
  5. Give individual team members the best possible chance to develop and nurture their requirements. This doesn?t mean that you have to give everyone the same amount of time on the pitch.

In summary, work rate is often a by-product of a culture that is built upon standards set, then reinforced by individual team members. Social Learning Theory is a prominent factor in Sports Performance, as we continue to learn and adopt certain behaviours or attitudes. Ultimately, the key to high performance is consistency and committing to a particular goal.


  • Bandura, A., 1977. Self-efficacy: Toward a Unifying Theory of Behavioral Change. Psychological Reviews, 84 (2), 4.
  • Dweck, C., 2007. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. 1st edition. Ballantine Books.
  • Deeprose, D., 1995. The Team Coach: Vital New Skills for Supervisors & Manager in a Team Environment. 1st edition. American Management Association.
  • Kerr, J., 2013. Legacy. 1st edition. Constable & Robinson.
  • Kozlowski, S., Bell, B., 2001., Work Groups and Teams in Organisations. (Online).?Available at: ? Accessed 8th June 2016.
  • Widmeyer, N., Brawley, L., Carron, A., 1990. The Effects of Group Size in Sport. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology. Volume 12, 179.
The following two tabs change content below.

Mike Young

Director of Performance at Athletic Lab
Mike is the Head Fitness Coach for the North Carolina Courage and North Carolina FC. He is also the owner and Director of Performance at Athletic Lab sports performance training center. He previously served as the fitness coach for the Vancouver Whitecaps and Carolina Railhawks. He has a PhD in Biomechanics, an MS in Coaching Science, and a BSS in Exercise Physiology and has coached Olympic and professional athletes in Skeleton, Track & Field, MLS and NASL Soccer, PGA Golf, NFL Football, MLB Baseball and Olympic Weightlifting. He has lectured around the world and authored 2 books and dozens of research and coaching articles.