Back in the 90s, I learned about a simple team-building exercise that seems appropriate at this time of the year. Teams that play fall seasons, are entering their playoffs or major tournaments, conference championships, NCAA tournaments. It’s that time of the year, when players are excited, have high expectations and lofty dreams.
They are also wondering if they are good enough, either individually or as a team. Coaches are looking for ways to re-assure them, motivate them and give that extra boost of confidence that could make the difference.
The exercise is called “I Am, We Are.” I found out about it when the US women’s national soccer team used it before the 1996 Olympics and the 1999 World Cup.
It’s really simple and can be pretty effective. Pass out pieces of paper and pens. Then ask each player to answer the question “I Am” with three things that they are good at or something that makes them special. At least two of them should be related to your team’s sport.
The players will typically write things like, “I am a good passer” … “I am a scorer” … “I am aggressive” … “a good dribbler” … “smart” … “fast,” and a host of other skills they have developed. They will also write things like, “I am funny” … “I am awesome” … “I am a good teammate” … “I am competitive.”
After you have collected all their lists, just put them aside. The players will forget about it. Later on, you take all the things they wrote and list them on a poster under the heading “We Are.” Imagine what that list looks like if 20-30 players listed all their individual strengths.
When you show the players the entire list, ask them what they think of it. Start a discussion that will help make the points you feel they need. Use it to convey crucial messages during an important time of year, to illustrate the capabilities of the group.
It should be easy for the players to take away some significant lessons. First of all, they will see what an impressive group of teammates they have. Secondly, their three strengths have become a small, yet important piece in the grand scheme. And for some, it might be the first time they realize there is a grand scheme.
After completing their individual lists and seeing their three entries alongside everyone else’s, they should begin to understand how much better the team is collectively, and they should be more willing than ever to play as a team instead of a group of individuals.
With one simple exercise, you have given the players a chance to remember what they do well. And you have also changed the team’s focus from “I” to “We.”