| | | How to Build Team Camaraderie

Author / John

Houston-Texans-Victory-White-Power-Athlete-How to build camaraderieNFL season is back! The first week brought some amazing displays of athleticism, come-from-behind victories, and a Houston triumph over Chicago (taste it, @Luke). Despite that, one thing was missing, Tom Brady. I’m by no means a Patriots fan, but do admire his tenacity and leadership, especially from the sideline.

Brady’s boisterous sideline antics may generate outcry from the meek, but they’re missing the forest for the trees. Tom is holding his team accountable. What looks like frustration are actually his expectations, falling in line with Power Athlete’s Three Pillars of Accountability:

  1. Follow Through: Own the responsibilities and ensure their execution.
  2. Communicate: Clear, concise, and constructive.
  3. Attention to Detail: Focus on the process, not the outcomes. Punctuality, fundamentals in practice, and mutual accountability at all levels.

Look to the aftermath of Brady’s emotional actions – you do not see players put their heads down or talk back. They raise their level of play. This is camaraderie at its purest. Individuals who have never competed or coached at a high level with athletes who demand perfection all around cannot understand camaraderie and its development.

Tom-Brady-Camaraderie-Power-AthleteIf that’s you, all is not lost! Power Athlete to the rescue. Let’s walk through a typical training day, targeting opportunities for mutual accountability and prudent shared suffering that will empower your team’s performance.

Teammate Warm Up

The warm up is crucial for every training session and practice, but its purpose expands beyond specific preparation. This is a grand opportunity to set the tone for execution. Sport coaches expect a lot of communication, successful execution, and correction of mistakes during practice. Why should the weight room be any different?

These demands inherently appear when you assign partners for warm up movements. Classic go-to’s include isometric holds and strict pull ups. Done solo, one could conceivably coast through [video_lightbox_vimeo5 video_id=”90592116″ width=”960″ height=”540″ anchor=”Captain Morgans”]. However, adding a partner immediately engages our 3 Pillars Of Accountability. One athlete sets up in their hold. The coach leads the time as partners apply pressure to points across the body. Press the heels in to ensure active glutes. Check the hips to keep the fight in the trunk. And most importantly, pressure on the head through all planes of motion like in this Partner Resisted Plank.


A big component of our Concussion Prevention Protocols, applying pressure strengthens and stabilizes a long, neutral neck position. When their teammate’s injury prevention is in their hands, they will rise to the responsibility.

I’m a big fan of partner pull ups, assisted if not consistent in their strict pull ups, or manual-resisted if they’re beasts. Strict pull ups intimidate many athletes into half-assing them or worse, skipping them entirely. Assigning a partner not only help them get their vertical pulls, it also builds communication and follow through into the warm up!

Manual resisted pull ups integrates the ultimate X-Factor: competition. One athlete is pulling up with all of their might as their teammate is pulling them down. This broadens the competition comfort zone and creates tough love coaches want in practice.


Strength and Skill Work

When shit gets heavy or we need to get precise, I always call the team together and lay down the expectation of execution – not for the movements, but for the 3 Pillars.

Establish lift standards (posture, position, or landmarks) with the team from jump and encourage group leaders to follow through. I call this trickle-down coaching. If you’re pushing the seniors and juniors to go heavier with a greater range of motion, you know they’re going to be looking around to ensure everyone else is pushing just as hard.

Select skills that require a teammate to either participate or observe execution. Footwork is a simple example. Have the athletes lock eyes throughout execution. This seemingly silly (or awkward) addition helps maintain separation of eyes and feet. To drive intra-team communication, start the clock and STOP COACHING. Observe and “funish” accordingly. If the room is quiet, drop down to ground for pillars to remind them of the 3 Pillars (see what I did there?).


Shared Suffering

Nothing forges camaraderie like shared suffering via conditioning (Condo as I like to call it). Unfortunately, team-building has been lost in the midst of mindless, cyclical, non-sport related workouts.

Never condition for conditioning’s sake. Turning the clock on, cranking the music, then letting your athletes get turnt in a workout may sound like a good time, but in reality, you’re doing more harm than good. Here’s why: State Dependent Learning. They’re pushing their max effort to execute cyclical repetitions of known movement patterns with no demand for reaction or brain usage. In other words, you are creating a poor teammate that needs music to work hard, ignores others/the environment, and disappears up their own ass when the going gets tough.

Instead, use reaction drills or races. Athletes must be explosive and dynamic when reacting to another athlete’s movement, a coach’s command, or their teammate finishing a task. Break a big team into smaller squads and pit them against each other for a real push during Condo. You not only build conditioning, but also camaraderie and communication. 3x the benefit in the same amount of time.


Military Team-Injuring

Increasing numbers of sport coaches are pushing strength coaches to bring in personnel to put athletes through old school military shared suffering.

Sport Coaches,

The only camaraderie of rucking miles and absurd amounts of push ups is building is a mutual hate towards the time you’re wasting. I see your purpose and I’ll raise you: prudent training that accomplishes your goal without risking nonsense injuries. Let’s take what makes our military great, mix it into smart training, and forge a team of powerful athletes.

How? Back to the Basics, like shared suffering via max effort isometric holds. Bonus benefit for the coach: implementing these illuminates 3 types of teammates:

  1. Leaders: those who get vocal and push the team to stay up.
  2. The Unaccountable: the athletes stay up but zone out and lose awareness of environment.
  3. Most importantly, the quitters: Performance doesn’t lie. If athletes are quitting during these holds, you know exactly the athlete you’re getting when the going gets tough.

What we can take from military training is problem solving. Pose a challenge that requires critical thinking. They jointly decide and execute successfully, or pay the consequences. We see this in the form of taking the lacrosse or football team in for free throws, or getting your defensive line up for field goals. The team picks a side: miss or make. Losers sprint!

My personal favorite is a simple coin toss. For example, we have 2 x 300 yard shuttles programmed for the volume run. I propose:

Run 2 x 300 yard shuttles OR flip for it. Call it in the air. If you’re correct, only run 1 x 300 yard shuttle. BUT if you’re wrong, the whole team runs 3 x 300 yard shuttles.

They have the opportunity to work together in a low stress environment before the season gets going.


Empower Your Performance: The Break

The final opportunity in your training day to build camaraderie is the Break. The work is done for the day, elation is in the air – no better time to feel good and listen. As a coach, progressively decrease your soap box time and push the leaders and mid-level guys to make this theirs. No coaches, no orders, just teammates talking constructively like a huddle on the field.

When the core of the team has a high self-esteem, group expectations rise and Brady-esque outbursts Fuel the Fire. Before that can happen, athletes must have the opportunity to come together! The more often a group works challenges, communicates constructively (even if it is just skill work), and hones attention to detail, the more likely their performance will be empowered come Game Day.

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John Welbourn is CEO of Power Athlete and Fuse Move. He is also creator of the online training phenomena, Johnnie WOD. He is a 9 year veteran of the NFL. John was drafted with the 97th pick in 1999 NFL Draft and went on to be a starter for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1999-2003, appearing in 3 NFC Championship games, and for starter for the Kansas City Chiefs from 2004-2007. In 2008, he played with the New England Patriots until an injury ended his season early with him retiring in 2009. Over the course of his career, John has started over 100 games and has 10 play-off appearances. He was a four year lettermen while playing football at the University of California at Berkeley. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in Rhetoric in 1998. John has worked with the MLB, NFL, NHL, Olympic athletes and Military. He travels the world lecturing on performance and nutrition for Power Athlete. You can catch up with John as his personal blog on training, food and life, Talk To Me Johnnie and at Power Athlete.


  1. Steven Platek on September 15, 2016 at 6:52 am

    @mcquilkin @john @luke

    This is really great stuff. There is a part of the brain called the basal ganglia, which is made up of several smaller nuclei, one of which is called the caudate nuclei. The caudate nuclei, like the rest of the basal ganglia is dopaminergic and involved in movement – primarily the execution of automatic movements, or things we don’t have to actively think about or pay attention to. However, the caudate nuc is also involved in shared reward; i.e. when two (or more, like in this case a team) work together to increase self-efficacy toward or actually solving a problem of challenge together we see activation in the caudate. It’s pretty much the “do it together” nuclei of the reward system. It’s probably why dads and sons get reward out of working on projects together, even though it might be easier for the dad to simply say “go play, I got this”

    when applied to sport, team sport – it struck me that an increase in shared reward in the caudate, which is also involved in automaticity, may lead to increased performance because of the involvement of dopamine (dopamine isn’t just for pleasure and reward, it’s actually highly involved in movement and in learning).

    Just rambling off the cuff here, but this really got me thinking….

    Thanks for a good article and sorry about the the neuro geek out.


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