We’ve had a lot of discussion about the ambiguous use of the word chemistry and how it relates to having a good clubhouse. I wrote this article late last summer but decided not to post it. Since this is a pretty dead time for baseball, I thought it could spur some discussion on team failures.
I’ve been involved in high school athletics for over three decades. In the summers I teach graduate classes that deals with playing team sports at an optimum level. While the curriculum is pretty sizeable, I want to share four things that happen on a team and relate them back to our past season.
Many textbook authors (most recently Jeff Janssen) have referred to teams being built in four phases: Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing.
The forming stage is when players learn roles and start to develop group bonds. In MLB this is spring training. A team attitude emerges.
The Storming Phase would be when a starting line-up is first introduced and a struggle ensues. Egos can get in the way of performance; jealousy can occur. I would compare this to spring training or early in the season when a certain player is getting most of the at-bats at a particular position and another player figures they could be left out. Or, another example would be the bullpen and the order at which players are used.
Norming is the time when things settle down and players begin to accept their roles. Players become comfortable with each other and a trust begins. This probably happens at least by the time a 25-man roster is set and a few games have been played. By the end of April a team is probably “normal”. A veteran team with all members returning from the previous season might attain this early in spring training.
Last of all, the Performing Stage is when all things are going well. Players play their role and the team excels. This is an easy comparison to the 2008 team when it seemed virtually all year the team performed at a high level.
Here’s the problem. At any time a team can revert back to the storming phase. It could be an attitude problem from a player or something that happens in a game. It could be an injury where a team is thrown back into trying to get back into a set line-up with new roles. Some teams may go back and forth from Storming into Norming for long periods. Some teams may never get to the Performing Stage.
I’ve seen personal examples of a player being eliminated from a high school team and the team will run off a win streak. I’ve seen high school teams that suffer injury or disciplinary infractions never recover back to their old form due to players in new roles and fighting to be in a role. Injuries and attitudes were the 2009 Cubs.
This past season, from the outside looking in, had all the signs of failure. Injuries all season, and they were major injuries. One (or more) players’ attitude may have made everyone uncomfortable. It’s very hard for a manager or coach to fix or prevent this “storming” phase thing from happening, but the duration could be shortened. In my opinion, it is hard to imagine at the major league level how teams perform at all, when you add booing, media critics and the fans call for change throughout the season. Players have to be so strong as to trust themselves, their teammates and coaches to prevent any of this. Leadership is critical.
I hope this might shed some light as to what can happen on teams and what could have happened in 2009. When you look at everything, we should probably have not had a winning record. What we could probably expect next season with a few new faces is a longer adjustment period (Forming-Storming-Norming) until we start “Performing” at a high level. We could surmise that if the team has a good April, management did a good job bringing in the right players and the team has good “chemistry”.
There are many factors that relate to chemistry and this is one area. There are certainly other factors.
Have a great holiday season and here’s hoping for a great 2010 Cubs season.