Athletic Teams as Families

When tragedy happens, we all react differently. Some become vocal; some become silent; others need a hug or a listening ear. Athletic teams are no different than a traditional family unit. The individuals may cope in various ways, but the team has a choice of leaning on each other or going separate ways.

We can use UCLA’s Nick Pasquale’s death as an example.  All of the players on UCLA’s football team have worn his number on their wristbands, cleats and towels. Fans in the stadium held signs and there was a vigil at the university. Popular sports media outlets even ran a special documentary about Pasquale, his family, and his teammates relationships. We are never exempt from tragedy. However, we do have the choice on how we respond during difficult times.


How A Team Becomes A Family

  1. Unity: When one member of the family goes through a difficult time, every member has a responsibility to respond. Some might be leaders in the response and others might follow their captains’ lead. In football, the coach calls the play and the offense has the job to execute the called play. If one member of the team does not execute his job, then there is a good chance that the play will not be successful.
  2. Communication: In sports verbal and non-verbal communication are necessary parts of the game.
    1. In baseball, the catcher and pitcher communicate through symbols (usually the catcher holding down a combination of fingers to communicate a designated pitch). The pitcher usually responds by shaking or nodding his head to demonstrate his opinion of the desired pitch. Without this communication, the catcher would not know which pitch the pitcher would be throwing or where the pitch will be located.
    2. Verbal communication in sports is also important. Team meetings, practices, and social activities are largely verbal communication. By building on verbal communication, the non-verbal communication will be easier to understand when game situations are difficult.
  3. Attitude: On a team, attitude is contagious. When someone hits a home run, the next person up to bat has an increased confidence in their hitting ability. In football, stopping the ball on 3rd and short will give the defense added confidence for their next series. On the other hand, negative attitudes are also contagious. An angry or negative teammate can derail an entire team from having a productive game or match. One of my coaches had a mantra of “attitude steers the ship.” By each player coming into the locker room focused, determined, and even happy, the entire team will be on the same page and will often have better success.


By utilizing unity, communication, and attitude during times of tragedy, our teams can be more successful in working through the specific tragedy. Remember that through unity the team can utilize their strengths. Communication about the tragedy will help the team to use their verbal and non-verbal communication to process through the trauma. Also, attitudes during tragedy are important. How do you want the ship to be steered? Do you want to be disruptive or do you want the team to be together during the difficult time?


Adam R Glendye MA MFT, LAPC


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