Saturday, November 13, 2010

Group Dynamics and Individual Success

As important as personalized goals and attention are to individual success, it’s equally important to recognize the effect of group dynamics on individual success. A great many physical activities take place in groups and for many the group’s success is dependent on encouraging positive group dynamics. However, positive group dynamics can also have a positive effect on individual success. Understanding the effects can help maximize not only the group’s success but individuals’ success.

One form of group dynamics is team building. Carron, Hausenblas, & Eys (as cited in Gill & Williams, 2008, p. 261) defined team building as "team enhancement for both task and social purposes." This definition acknowledges the dual nature of team building: not just improved task performance, but also improved social connectedness. And as Carron, Colman, Wheeler, & Stevens (2002) discovered, both task and social cohesion are positively associated with performance. But how can team building help with individual success? A physical education class for seventh grade boys and girls with varying levels of interest and skill provides an excellent example. Students with less skill may feel intimidated by their more skilled peers. Smith and Smoll (1997) found that team building was an effective way of reducing performance anxiety as well as improving self-esteem. Therefore team building is a way in which students can be encouraged to participate and improve their skills.

Based on Yukelson’s (1997) advice, there are several strategies that can be used in team building. Having the students create a special name for their class and wear a colored wristband unique to their class can help to create a team identity. Assigning a more skilled student to work with a less skilled student and creating an environment where positive feedback is expected from and for all students can help foster peer helping and social support. Setting group goals as well as individual goals with the input of students on both topics can create a unity of purpose. And to maintain open and honest communication, students should be encouraged to share their concerns, ideas, and accomplishments with the group during a group share at the end of each class.

As touched on earlier, social support is an important component of group dynamics. Shumaker and Brownell (as cited in Gill & Williams, 2008, p. 251) define social support as "an exchange of resources between at least two individuals perceived by the provider or the recipient to be intended to enhance the well-being of the recipient." Social support can be seen, then, as a positive dynamic between two or more people. To examine how social support might impact individual performance, let’s look at an exercise program for older adults in good health at a senior center. One of the main reasons that older adults attend senior centers is for the social support (Krout, 1983). This social support can have a positive effect on the older adults’ well-being, but it can also help improve their physical activity performance. Duncan and McAuley (1993) found that social support improves self-efficacy which is a crucial part of performance.

Rosenfeld and Richman (as cited in Gill & Williams, 2008, p. 252) created a model of social support that includes three broad types of social support: tangible, informational, and emotional. All three types can be incorporated into the senior center’s exercise program. Tangible support can be provided as assistance with utilizing exercise equipment and with performing other physical activities. Informational support can be provided with positive feedback and advice from the instructor as well as fellow participants. Emotional support can be provided as part of a consultation with the instructor when setting and evaluating personalized goals for the individual participants as well as during group instruction when instructors and participants can provide encouragement.

Improving group dynamics through team building and social support can have a positive impact on individual success as well as group success. Team building can encourage participation by improving self-esteem and reducing performance anxiety. Social support can improve performance by increasing self-efficacy. Groups that take into account the effects of group dynamics on individuals can increase both performance and effectiveness.


Carron, A., Colman, M., Wheeler, J., & Stevens, D. (2002). Cohesion and performance in
     sport: A meta analysis. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 24(2), 168-188.

Gill, D. L., & Williams, L. (2008). Psychological dynamics of sport and exercise (3rd
     Ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Krout, J. (1983). Correlates of senior center utilization. Research on Aging, 5(3), 339-352.

Smith, R. E. & Smoll, F. L. (1997). Coach-mediated team building in youth sports. Journal of
     Applied Sport Psychology, 9
(1), 114-132. doi:10.1080/10413209708415387

Yukelson, D. (1997). Principles of effective team building interventions in sport: A direct
     services approach at Penn State University. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology,
(1), 73-96. doi:10.1080/10413209708415385

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Promoting Physical Activity in Families

Family activities provide an opportunity for socializing in an age where families are increasingly disconnected by divergent daily schedules. Engaging in physical activities as a family can not only provide a way for families to spend more time together, but it can also help sustain parent-child communication (Thompson, Jago, Brockman, Cartwright, Page, et al., 2010) and assist each member of the family in developing healthy fitness habits. Many Parks & Recreation departments offer adequate facilities and programs, but the programs and classes focus primarily on individuals participating with their peers. The Families Together & Active program aims to provide physical activity instruction geared towards families participating together. The goals of the program are twofold: to improve participants’ performance and to foster positive attitudes toward physical activity.

Although family members may also opt to participate in activities on their own, having activities that families can participate in together offers important benefits. Primarily, it allows parents to serve as models of behavior for their children, both in valuing physical activity and in performing the actual tasks. Bryan (as cited in Gill & Williams, 2008, p. 216) found support for the popular adage “actions speak louder than words” in that individuals (and specifically children) are more likely to do what they see another person doing rather than what the person says to do. Horn and Horn (as cited in Gill & Williams, 2008, p. 218) found more specifically that parents’ attitudes and beliefs regarding physical activity as evidenced by their behaviors had a great influence on their children’s attitudes and behaviors. So parents participating in physical activities with their children can help the children develop positive attitudes towards physical activity. McCullagh and Weiss (as cited in Gill & Williams, 2008, p. 215-216) posited that watching someone else learn a task can help an individual learn the task as well. And watching someone who is perceived to be similar to oneself, such as a family member, can increase performance among individuals as well (Gould & Weiss, as cited in Gill & Williams, 2008, p. 216). Therefore watching their parents learn a task can increase a child’s performance as well as help them to learn the task.

The availability of a variety of physical activities for families to participate in together is also important. Each family member is likely to have their own opinion on what activities interest them. A wide variety increases the likelihood that families will find an activity that they can all agree on. Some of the classes to be offered for families to participate in together (based on instructor availability) include: karate, yoga, tennis, basketball, hiking, soccer, and swimming. The focus in these classes will mainly be on basic skills, but encouraging interaction among the participants will also be an important component. Participants will also be encouraged to practice their skills at home with a “homework assignment.” This “homework” may consist of breathing exercises or practicing movements/poses and should be completed with the help of a family member, who can provide feedback.

In addition to instructor-lead classes, families would have access to facilities for open use on certain days/times. This not only gives families time to practice what they are learning in instructor-lead classes, but it also encourages them to continue their physical activity in a non-structured way. This prepares them for continuing their fitness habits outside of a class setting which helps ensure long-term maintenance of physical activity and fitness.

Parents have a great influence on their children’s attitudes and behaviors when it comes to physical activity. By implementing a program that allows parents and children to participate together in physical activities, the positive effects of parental modeling can be maximized to increase performance and positive attitudes. Additionally, family participation can help to foster an environment at home where physical activity and other healthy habits are the norm.


Gill, D. L., & Williams, L. (2008). Psychological dynamics of sport and exercise
     (3rd Ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Thompson, J. , Jago, R. , Brockman, R. , Cartwright, K. , Page, A. , et al. (2010).
     Physically active families de-bunking the myth? A qualitative study of family
     participation in physical activity. Child Care, Health & Development, 36(2), 265-