Synergy is beautiful to observe. It is one of those things that you know the moment you see it and as a coach you want to take that moment, bottle it, and have it available every single minute your team is on the court. Believe it or not that is not just a dream, it is a reality that you can accomplish. It just takes an understanding, focus, commitment, and leadership.

“My model for business is The Beatles. They were four guys who kept each other’s negative tendencies in check. And the total was greater than the sum of the parts. Great things in business are not done by one person; they are done by a team of people.”

– Steve Jobs

The Definition of Synergy

So what exactly is synergy? The truth is that it is not always positive - even though that is what most of us think about and strive for when we are coaching a team. Negative synergy is typically described in a business environment as a state in which the sum is less than the total of all parts. (Source). This is perfectly translatable onto the court if you think about a situation in which all of the players combined work together in a much less than ideal way. On the other hand, in business, positive synergy would be described as the opposite, such that the sum of all the parts are greater than the whole. Again, this translates well into a basketball scenario, only this one much more positive - when the team comes together and works as a team.

“A synergy is a collective property of a task-specific organization of individuals, such that the degrees of freedom of each individual in the system are coupled, enabling the degrees of freedom of different individuals to co-regulate each other.” (According to the National Institute of Health).

Synergy in Basketball

Otherwise considered as on-court chemistry, synergy in basketball is actually a topic of significant study and conversation. Basketball is a unique, timed, game in which two teams of 5 players try to out-maneuver each other on a long rectangular court and sink a ball into an 18 inch hoop 10 feet off the ground. It is a game in which the most talented players tend to have height, athleticism, nimbleness, focus and a cool head. Most teams have a bench of at least twice that number of players.

Since basketball is also a game in which the entire on-court team needs to work together cooperatively in order to successfully outplay the opposing team and score the most baskets, coaches usually mix and match the players on the court to make sure that this can happen. Because not every player has the same skills, or capabilities, a great coach will put kids on the court together who will complement each other, strengthen each other, and work well together. Any individual that is on the court at any given time may contribute to a negative or positive synergy depending on the other 9 people that are on the court (both their teammates and those on the opposing team).

Creating Synergy on a Team

To do this well a coach needs to know a few key things:

  • The skills, talents, and capabilities of each member of the team
  • How those skills, talents and capabilities add to other members’ when they are on the court together
  • The opposing team’s strengths and weaknesses

A coach also needs to know enough about the game of basketball and the different types of plays and strategies to be able to put this information to good use. For most youth basketball coaches, this means taking advantage of the resource that is Hustle which is full of exercises, drills, and plays. Those can be studied in light of the possibilities of any given group of players that you might put on the court together. Practice is a good time to not only teach the team various plays and put them through exercises and drills, but to test how to have good synergy and watch what makes for bad synergy. As you figure out the strategy, commit to it and use it. After all, analyzing and using information is what the best professional coaches do best, some of them just use really advanced technology to perfect it. (According to USAToday).

Chances are you do not have access to the same resources that highly paid professional basketball coaches do - and that is ok. You can still put together the information available to you and share the knowledge you have (to the extent appropriate) with the kids you are coaching. This means letting them in on what you are trying to do so that they understand why you are making the calls that you make. It will help them grow, focus, and understand their role in the team.

Being a good coach means leading the individual players into a team mentality. Being a great coach means finding that magic that makes a team a coherent unit when they step onto the court.