How Intentional Relationships Can Help Your Team Culture

Being a leader is a huge responsibility. With this great responsibility comes the importance of understanding why relationships matter. They matter in sports, and they matter in life.

The best coaches and most admired teammates in the public eye have devoted their craft of leadership around building relationships with their teams, peers, assistant coaches, and those they have recognized are integral members of successful environments.

Extroverts could argue that creating, engaging and building relationships happens naturally. Introverts, however, would argue that those aspects of relationships are not energizing (sometimes exhausting) and more naturally challenging to engage in and maintain. In whatever realm you more closely resonate with, please allow the following points to be potential pathways that would enable you to begin, build, and better the relationships with those in your current athletic sphere.


  • Identify. As a leader dedicated to enhancing your environment, spend time identifying who in your sphere you need to connect more regularly with, or a relationship you could add depth to.
  • Time. In the infancy stages of building relationships, timing is crucial. Determine when you will be intentional about connecting and also consider how long you plan to be in this posture. Asking your teammate about their biology exam in the middle of conditioning probably isn’t the best timing. However, when you see your teammate in the library studying before practice feel free to drop a line to connect and build that rapport.
  • What. Prior to building a relationship with the person you’ve identified, determine on what ground you’ll connect. What do you know about him or her that would allow you to connect or ask questions about? What common ground do the two of you share? Allowing yourself to identify these areas will set up your intentional time well.


  • Why. As you navigate the build stage of your relationship, be sure that your teammate (for example) knows why they are valuable to you. This does not have to be a fully vulnerable display of emotion on your end. Rather, allow it to be a natural declaration of why your teammate is great. For example, “Jenn, you are such a great teammate. You’re never late to practice and are always willing to warm up with me. I love that.”
  • Return. Similar to the ‘what’ stage of beginning your relationship, as you build your relationship return as often as needed, to the common ground that connects you to that person. That common ground is likely to have been a foundation previously and there is no sense in disrupting or navigating away from that bond.
  • Test. Leadership, specifically relationship building, will never be a straight and narrow journey. Attempt to understand your relationship so well that you can identify what works and what does not work in your intentional time and conversation. Understand that ‘what works’ will feel and look different for each unique leader. Successful relationship building may look like a lot of smiles and laughs for some. For others, it may look like sharing game strategy or challenging one another to a cool down game of one on one.

(Make) Better

  • Challenge. The greatest relationships shared between players and coaches or amongst teammates are those that challenge both parties. In this point of emphasis, allow the world challenge to foster a positive connotation. Understand this word to be an avenue to grow so the relationship naturally gains depth.
  • Review. When under pressure, players and coaches will often revert back to their most deeply held habits. Game competition is a natural environment for this to be displayed. After competition has ended, spend time reviewing your relationship in those intense moments. What could you take individual responsibility for to make your relationship in those moments better? What can be done as a duo to ensure a great relationship is maintained in fierce moments of competition?
  • Reaffirm. Critically important, especially after reviewing your relationship, is the affirmation you can provide in your relationship. This continued concept should never lack in a successful relationship. As your commitment to leadership continues and you make your relationships better, it will become easier to identify where and how that person adds value to your life, your team and your individual relationship. Share this with them as soon and as often as it comes to the surface.

Relationships are powerful. They have the ability to take a team from average to good, good to great, and great to championship level. As an investment into your own leadership, whether you are a coach, player, assistant or support staff, embrace the opportunity ahead of you to begin, build, and better the relationships in your spheres of influence.