Leadership and team development in football

For most Bundesliga football clubs, the transfer carousel spins at an impressive pace in the summer. But many lower-class teams are also having their squads reassembled for the upcoming season. Starting with this phase, the team develops in team sports. This process is long-lasting and should be observed and controlled by the trainer from the start. This editorial “On leadership and team development in football” provides important sports psychology standards and offers helpful tips for everyday training.

Dr. reports for RESWITCH . René Paasch:

Football is a team sport – despite all the individualism. That's why the topic of team development is a central means for every coach in all leagues to develop performance-enhancing measures. In this regard, Joachim Löw, coach of the German national football team, spoke as follows in an interview: “Respectful, trusting cooperation in our team is very important to me; reliability and trust are essential factors in this context. We set an example of open communication at eye level, the ability to take criticism, transparency and tolerance, but it takes a while for something like this to be internalized by everyone, the players and also the supervisors. Until everyone trusts each other” (see time from May 31, 2012). It is precisely in this core statement from Joachim Löw that the extensive processes of continuous and temporal team development and leadership lie.

Group cohesion/team cohesion

Before I go into the phases of team development according to Tuckmann and Lau, I would like to offer you the term group cohesion or team cohesion, as this is very important in a sporting context. Cohesion is derived from the Latin verb “cohaerere,” which means to be connected to one another. Terms such as cohesion, team spirit or group morale are often used interchangeably. In sport psychology, the theoretical model of group cohesion by Albert Carron and colleagues (Brawley and Widmeyer, 1998) is usually used. According to the model, group cohesion can be divided into four different factors. On the one hand, one can distinguish between task-related and social cohesion . On the other hand, the group is viewed as a whole and the individual in the context of the group . The difference between the last two aspects can be illustrated with an example: You could have a team in which 15 of 16 team members do a lot together. An athlete, on the other hand, is left out. If you now ask this athlete about the unity of the group, he would have to say that it is high, because this is also true for the group as a whole. However, the athlete himself is not integrated there and therefore his connection to the group is low. From the findings so far, the following can be hypothetically concluded: Teams that rate their task cohesion higher than other teams also tend to be more successful. Successes and failures over the course of the season do not necessarily lead to changed perceptions of cohesion in the team. It is more likely to be possible to demonstrate a higher, positive influence of previous sporting success on cohesion than the other way around (Lau, Stoll, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2007).

In the following text, I will show you the important starting points for development and continuous performance in the team. The term “team” is being talked about everywhere these days. But what exactly is behind it? The linguistic root of the term “team” comes from Old English and comes from the meanings “family” and “team”. But what makes a family? We are connected, we share a common name, we share common beliefs and values, we stick together. And the concept of a team also creates a clear idea: we pull together and we use our strengths in the same place and for the same goal. In this context and as an introduction, Tuckmann's phase model (1965, 1977) applies.

Fig. 1 Phases of development

In the first phase, “Stage: Getting to know each other,” the team members get to know each other. They explore whether they feel like they belong to this group and, if so, what role they play in it. Particularly in this phase, feelings of insecurity and cautious reserve arise, which require sensitive leadership from the trainer. An orientation towards goals and clear guidelines is therefore recommended. The coach should endeavor to find out the athletes' motives and expectations and try to match these with his ideas. During this phase, care should be taken to maintain a good mood in order to strengthen positive initial motivation. In the second phase “stage: confrontation-conflict phase”, if you want to be effective and successful in the long term, it is essential that the trainer observes the formation of subgroups and intervenes if necessary, especially in groups that are too strong and dominant. Interpersonal conflicts, rebellion against the trainer, resistance to group control or group norms are normal behaviors and require careful leadership from outside. In this phase, the trainer has the task of recognizing strengths and weaknesses, making them transparent and being able to assess them. The athlete should then know his task and role within the team. In the transition from the conflict phase to the “consolidation stage”, as a trainer you should carefully consider where you actively intervene and where you leave the process to the group. The consolidation should then be supplemented by solidarity and cooperative income. In the subsequent phase “Stage: Performance” success is achieved. Team members gather their strength to achieve a common goal. There are always new paths in the process that lead back to an earlier phase, for example with new commitments or new conflicts. Overall, the process should not be viewed one-sidedly, but rather from a holistic perspective. From this perspective, it becomes clear that there are basic rules that apply to all groups. No matter whether it is families, interest groups, clubs or even teams. These rules “apply implicitly” without having been agreed upon. Observe familiar and successful teams. You will probably find some of what I describe below in your everyday sporting life.

Team development training

Another interesting concept of team development for sport is team development training (TET) by Lau (2005b). This integrative training combines the practical interaction between sporting training, competition and the social development of the team. Furthermore, the TET uses person- and group-centered measures, which also include changes to organizational structures. The TET is based on the following four basic assumptions:

1) The team is capable of development and learning;

2) The team communicates with its environment;

3) Optimizing the performance of the team has a central function and

4) Changes within the team are more acceptable among the players if their needs and wishes are taken into account.

The objectives for the TET are therefore:

  • Establishing team goals
  • Developing an understanding of the roles of each team member
  • Promote communication
  • Initiation of conflict management for factual and relationship problems
  • Balance between cooperation and competition within the group
  • Promoting the awareness of interdependence within the team.

In the spirit of interdisciplinary and systems theory orientation when explaining collective performance in sport, Lau's team development training (TET) is based on the following principles:

  • Is based on training planning that follows the principle of cyclization and periodization.
  • Oriented towards optimizing collective performance requirements.
  • The team is a social system that separates itself from its environment but communicates and interacts with it.
  • Corresponds to training and competition control measures.
  • Primarily designed for the entire team, group and person-related methods complement the available method inventory.
  • Combines planned and situation-dependent intervention measures.
  • Supports positive team development trends and specifically (destroys) undesirable developments.
  • Based on a systematic team diagnosis and requires competent intervention management.

It becomes clear that the TET is not based on a fixed phase sequence of team development, as with Tuckmann, but rather integrates itself into the structure and functions of sporting training and competition with accompanying measures. In addition to recurring and standardized phases during the course of a football team's season, it is primarily group-specific, unforeseeable situations that are used as an opportunity for targeted intervention measures. The success of the TET therefore depends heavily on the leadership behavior of the trainer. So the specific question is whether it will be possible to promote this process through individual and collective measures?

Fig. 2 The above-mentioned phases of team development by Tuckmann and Lau are accompanied by five central components for a real team


“The common goals” of today are the present of tomorrow. Goals therefore extend from the present into the future. That's why goal setting is one of the most important motivational measures in a team. This provides clues as to how a team can be brought together when necessary. The common goal is always the starting point. Coaches should convince their players of this at the beginning. And this goal can always be returned to. And it is something essential that we not only have a common goal, but also depend on each other to achieve the goal. From my experience, I know that athletes often forget how dependent they are on their teammates. That's why I emphasize this aspect again and again. From my point of view, there are different types of goal setting that differ in their timing and content. It is therefore important that the personal goals of the individual members work in the interest of the team goal. The “temporal goals”, which extend into the future, thus change the concrete achievability and lead to targeted changes. “ Near-term goals”, on the other hand, point the way to long-term goals because they integrate them into a manageable deadline. “ Medium-term goals” motivate over a manageable period of time, for example over a period of four weeks to six months. The “long-term goals” as a guiding idea control the long-term goal, while “short-term goals” and “medium-term goals” lead to forward-looking activities. The very general presentation of the different types results in the choice of goal and the different types of goals such as “good intentions”, “result goals” and “ability goals” (physical-conditional, coordination-technical, cognitive-tactical and mental goals). ). Despite all the good planning, coaches should keep in mind that only when athletes define their own goals or at least accept them do they take responsibility for them.


“The common rules” are the cornerstone of a team. This allows the team to determine what is important to them and where they see their limits. Fixed rules mean, for example, concrete things such as a catalog of punishments for using telephones during team meetings. Such rules are important because they ensure the functioning of the team's processes and provide orientation for the individual athlete. Likewise, there are rules that are not always stated openly, but are still effective. For example, coaches could ask what behavior is desirable or undesirable on the field? Does the youngest have to collect the bibs? All things like that say something about the team's self-image and what is important to them. Coaches should talk to their team about this topic before the season and see what comes out.


“The common identity” : In business it has long been standard to develop an internal company mission statement. This describes who you are and/or want to be, what values ​​you represent and where you see your own tasks and your own strengths. Such a mission statement is also helpful in sport because it makes it easier for the individual to identify with the whole. Clues on this:

  • I am proud and happy to play in this team.
  • We will play confidently in our game and stand up for each other.
  • For our team we play with strength and with constant commitment, come what may!
  • And with that we will be a team and play successfully!!!

Unfortunately, such visions and images are used far too rarely. They impose themselves on each other. For example, is there an animal in the club's coat of arms? Let's think about ice hockey. The Berlin Polar Bears. These are very clear symbols. But even without an animal symbol, there are many ways to create guiding principles. Let's start, for example, by having you as a coach sit down with your team in a relaxed atmosphere before the start of the season and talk about your dreams and your sports-related ideals. And then put together how the individual players already see each other:

  • What are the strengths and how do we work together on our weaknesses?
  • What is characteristic of your team?
  • What values ​​do they stand for?

The trainer then brings the ideal image and reality together. The mission statement should already point to the future. Formulate the essence of this mission statement in a concise symbol (S04 in football: blue and white love) or sentence (e.g. “We are successful footballers with heart and hand.”). This symbol, this slogan can accompany you in the coming months. It can even be passed on to the youth teams, creating a synergy effect. With the common goal, the common rules and the common vision, you have a good foundation that brings your team, the club and possibly the fans together and that can accompany you in a helpful way throughout the entire season. I would like to give you a current example from the film “The Team”. It is a film that bears the signature of national team manager Oliver Bierhoff. Certainly also a contribution from team psychologist Hans-Dieter Hermann. It is no coincidence that Bierhoff repeatedly appears and intervenes in interview passages and that the public is reporting more and more about applied sports psychology in football, especially about Hermann. So the Campo Bahia and the team spirit are the key to winning the World Cup. The two points vary again and again throughout the 90 minutes and show the impressive face of a real team. In my opinion, the core statements are as follows:



Communication and leadership

In my experience, “communication” is the keyword that is used most frequently, along with leadership. Where athletes and coaches interact with each other, interaction and exchange play a central role. In communication, statements always have a factual aspect and a relationship aspect. In addition to pure information, each team member always shares something “about themselves” with which he or she relates. The way the team communicates with each other shows a sports psychologist what the relationships between the athletes and coaches are like. Typically, communication within the team runs like a restless mood curve. At first the mood is good and optimistic until the first arguments arise. Only when these have been resolved can we continue productively with a good feeling. I will now show what, in my opinion, is the ideal communication approach that makes a team more successful:

  • Respectful and appreciative attitude towards teammates
  • Active listening and follow-up
  • Address errors openly and address them in a solution-oriented manner
  • Send ME messages
  • Communicate through the five senses
  • Limit content to the essentials
  • When competing, choose simple content and send it in a targeted manner

There is no button for successful communication. It is not enough to make it clear to the athletes that they are expected to communicate in a beneficial way without practicing it themselves. None of the above just works. Targeted communication is the result of constant work on the team and feedback from your own communication style.

Task and role distribution

Getting to know the individual and collective distribution of tasks and roles and knowing their strengths and special features increases the inner security of a growing team. The playing position and the associated roles deserve special mention. The playing position indicates the place that the individual occupies in the team. It is important that this position remains interchangeable, but that not every team member is able to fulfill the tasks associated with this position. The associated function is then referred to as a role. The role is the expectation that a player should fulfill in a position. There are two aspects linked to this: the demands and obligations that are tied to the role and the personal contribution to the team performance. The understanding of roles includes the following questions for the athlete:

  • What do i have to do? (Duty)
  • What can I do? (degree of individuality)
  • What should I do? (personal expectation)
  • What can I do? (Self-assessment) (Baumann, 2002)

Each player must first fulfill the requirements and obligations. By becoming aware of this, the athlete can use his or her personal skills in a targeted manner. One should not forget that there are complex roles that require variable behavior, such as the central midfield position. Therefore, early knowledge of the position and role in the team are further components of a real team.

If we now look at the list of the above-mentioned components of a real team again and go back to our example situation with you as a coach: Where do processes need to be developed in your current team or the planned seasonal preparation? And with which points do you have the most experience as a trainer? For example, are you able to develop this complexity of a team? Only if you manage to get the above-mentioned components sufficiently under control and manage them sensitively from the outside will you be able to create a corresponding team spirit and the corresponding results in your team.


In summary, it can be said that the phases of team development take place continuously and require sensitive leadership. The common goal, the common rules and the common vision are a very good basis for bringing the team together and supporting them in a helpful role on a seasonal basis. Just like everyday communication and dealing with the distribution of tasks and roles, these points influence the development process of a team. Last but not least, I would like to highly recommend the documentary film “Trainer”! Aljoscha Pause provides real insights into the everyday work of a football coach. Team meetings and real-life pictures as well as many personal assessments paint an interesting picture of the trainer, who is constantly under the highest psychological pressure from the public.

You can find a small excerpt of this in the following trailer:

By loading the video, you accept YouTube's privacy policy.
Learn more

Load video

Conclusion: Sports psychologists can provide effective support in the development and consolidation of a real team and in trusting support in conjunction with the coach, the functional team and those responsible. In my opinion, the complexity of these processes makes it essential that sports psychologists become an integral part of the coaching staffs of Bundesliga football clubs.


Carron, AV, Hausenblas, HA & Eys, MA (2005). Group dynamics in sport. Morgantown: Fitness Information Technology.

Carron, AV, Colman, MM, Wheeler, J. & Stevens, D. (2002). Cohesion and performance in sports: A meta-analysis. Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 24, 168-188.

Carron, AV, Brawley, LR, & Widmeyer, WN (1998). The measurement of cohesiveness

in sports groups. In JL Duda (Ed.), Advances in sport and exercise psychology measurement

(pp. 213–226). Morgantown, WV: Fitness Information Technology.

Carron, AV, Widmeyer, WN & Brawley, LR (1985). The development of an instrument to assess cohesion in sport teams: the Group Environment Questionnaire. Journal of Sport Psychology, 7, 244-266.

Argyle, M. (2005). Body language and communication. The handbook for nonverbal

Communication. 9th edition Paderborn: Junfermann.

Baumann, S. (2002): Team psychology: methods and techniques. Aachen: Meyer & Meyer.

Ulrich Voigt, Martin Christ and Jens Gronheid: The film “The Team”

Eberspächer, H. (1982): Interaction processes and groups in sport. In Eberspächer, H.: Sport psychology. Reinbek: Rowohlt. pp.197-242.

Esser, A. (2005). On sports psychology work with the women's national team

Hockey. In G. Neumann (Ed.), Sports psychological support for the German Olympic team 2004. Experience reports - track record - perspectives.

Hübler, A. (2001). The concept of 'body' in language and communication sciences. Stuttgart: UTB.

Jackson, P. (1995): Sacred hoops. New York: Hyperion.

Kauffeld, S. (2001): Team diagnosis. Göttingen: Hogrefe.

Krueger, R. (2001): Teamlife: From defeat to success. Business publisher Carl Ueberreuter.

Lau, A. & Stoll, O. (2002). Validity and reliability of the questionnaire on team cohesion of sports teams (MAKO-02). In S. Schulz (ed.), Report on the 43rd Congress of the German Psychological Society in Berlin (p. 374). Lengerich: Pope Science Publishers.

Lau, A., Stoll, O. & Hoffmann, A. (2003). Diagnostics and stability of team cohesion in sports games. Leipzig sports science contributions, 44 (2), 1-24.

Lau, A., Stoll, O. & Schneider, L. (2004). Development of a Questionnaire to Measure Cohesion in Team Sports . Conference Proceedings – Association for the Advancement of Applied Sport Psychology in Minneapolis/Minnesota (p. 66).

Lau, A. (2005a): Collective performance in sports games – an interdisciplinary analysis. Habilitation thesis. Martin-Luther-University Halle-Wittenberg.

Lau, A. (2005b): Team development training - a systemic concept for team sports games. Leipzig Sports Science Contributions, 46(1), 64-82

Lau, A. & Stoll, O. (2007). Group cohesion in sport. Psychology in Austria, 27 (2), 155-163.

Ligget, DR (2004) Sports hypnosis. Heidelberg. Auer

Linz, L. (2003): Successful team coaching. Aachen: Meyer & Meyer.

Poggendorf, Armin / Player, Hubert (2003): Team dynamics - training, moderating and systemically setting up a team, Paderborn: Junfermann Verlag. (ISBN 3-87387-531-4)

Tuckman, Bruce W. / Jensen, Mary Ann (1977): Stages of small-group development revisited, Group Org. Studies 2.

Tuckman, Bruce W. (1965): Developmental sequence in small groups, Psychological Bulletin, 63, pp. 384-399.

See time from May 31, 2012: Interview with Joachim Löw, coach of the German national soccer team.

See time from August 26, 2013: Interview with Markus Wiese, coach of the national hockey team

Author: Dr. René Paasch

You may also like

View all
Example blog post
Example blog post
Example blog post