By Pat Baldwin
University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Men’s basketball coach
I think most coaches, no matter the sport, would say good team chemistry is an important element of success. Really, wherever people work together, whether it is in a corporate setting, a committee, or a volunteer or church activity, positive chemistry within the group leads to better communication, which leads to better teamwork.
It’s no different than in a marriage or a friendship. If you’re connected and on the same page, I think you’re going to be pretty successful. If you’re fragmented, if there’s any semblance of separation, I don’t think you’re going to be as good. I don’t think your company is going to run as well. I don’t think you’re going to be as efficient as you need to be.
When our Milwaukee men’s basketball team convened for eight weeks of summer practice on July 1, we greeted four freshmen and two junior college transfers, who joined six returnees from the 2018-’19 season. We also have three players who red-shirted last year and will be instrumental to our success.
That’s a lot of new faces, a lot of players from varied backgrounds who must come together quickly to form what we believe will be a winning team.
So we used the first week of summer practice to get to know one another with class time and team-building activities. One of the things we did was obstacle course training. We divided the team into two groups, and they took turns completing the course, but it wasn’t as simple as it sounds. In each group, one player was blindfolded and had to navigate through an obstacle course of cones by listening to his teammates’ instructions. This exercise emphasizes communication – talking and listening – and builds trust.
We also encouraged the players to open up about themselves, to tell their stories – where they came from and how they got here, who was instrumental in their development, who is important in their lives and why. If you allow yourself to be vulnerable – and vulnerable, to me, means you’re opening yourself up to, in our case, teammates and friends – then you’ll be able to trust a little bit more.
How does this relate to basketball? Maybe you’re more willing to open up to your teammate about something that’s happening on the court and are quicker to make an adjustment. If I’m the point guard and you’re the shooter, I want to like you. If I like you, I probably will pass to you more often and trust you to make shots. That’s just human nature.
When we started working on the floor in Week 2, you could see how the stuff we did in the classroom was shaping our guys and how it reflected in the way they prepared and practiced.
This is great training for the world after basketball, too. Like all college students, when our guys are done playing, they are going to be in positions where they’ll have to communicate and open themselves up to new things. They’ll have to be able to trust co-workers in their chosen careers.
But I’m excited that they’re in our basketball world right now, because for the 2019-’20 season, we have some really interesting new guys. The newcomers join our core group that’s back from last season, and the veterans have welcomed their new teammates with open arms.
I love what we see from these guys. They enjoy being around each other. They enjoy hanging out and doing things together. That’s always a good sign, and I can’t wait to see where it takes us.