Historically speaking, the term ‘group dynamics’ has been multi-faceted and varied, ranging from being defined as “a sort of political ideology concerning the ways in which groups should be organized and managed” to being defined as “a set of techniques, such as role playing, buzz-sessions, observation and feedback of group processes and group decisions”.
One group experience I’ve had recently was my participation in the UNI tennis club last year (which I am in again this year). We had roughly twenty members who came consistently throughout the year. This included a four-person executive team made up of the president, vice-president, secretary, and treasurer. Our president and vice president were primarily interpersonally and technically skilled in terms of management, as they built relationships and communicated professionally with all the members, as well as led activities and dealt with logistics. Our treasurer and secretary on the other hand, acted more as participants in the club, rather than outright leaders, but still showed some technical management skill by assisting in running practices and drills at times. Practices were run in an democratic and informal manner, with members’ opinions often being taken into consideration, even if it meant the original practice plan was tweaked or discarded. Some parts were more autocratic however, when the president and vice president had a specific agenda that needed to be completed for the good of the team. For example, one or two weeks in, we started playing matches against each other, at the end of every practice, to gauge where everyone was at skill-wise in relation to the other members. Those matches were necessary for the selection of our traveling team, and were thus mandatory. Additionally, our team apparel was not a topic for which opinions were needed or welcome. The president and vice president made them, the treasurer, and the secretary looked them over, and eventually, we bought them. Thus, overall, I would define the president and vice president’s combined decision-making style as “authority with discussion” since they valued inclusion and feedback but still utilized their own expertises as leaders.
Going beyond leadership and management styles, we as tennis club members cycled through many different, primarily positive, group roles. Our president, Hailey, served chiefly in multiple positions as an opinion/information giver (by explaining the format of practice and the rules of each game/drill each day), an opinion/information seeker (by asking our opinions about the games and drills she picked), timekeeper (by keeping track of time in order to get everything done each practice) and initiator (by officially starting practices every time). The vice-president, Jack, also took up those roles at times, just not as often. Personally, I was often a clarifier, asking questions to help with group understanding, and an encourager, cheering on and motivating teammates. Those two roles especially were often shared and traded among the team, and not specific to any one person. One other member of our team who was also the secretary, was Jake, who often acted in a negative group role as a disassociater by numerous absences form practice and a general attitude of indifference.
If I were responsible for a new tennis group, or were to attain an executive position on the current team, there are a couple things I would do differently in order to make the group more successful. First of all, I would change the dynamic of the competitive team that travels to tournaments. While the system of having both the casual and competitive team practice together encourages bonding and camaraderie between teammates, I believe it stunts the potential of the top players. Furthermore, it represents a missed opportunity to train and compete at the same level as the other tennis clubs we face at tournaments. One thing that some other club teams seem to have a higher supply of is athleticism. So if I were in charge, I would create an atmosphere for the competitive team to be pushed physically, to improve our fitness. I would hold one or two additional practices every week with just the competitive team, (the attendance of which would create an optional day of attendance for the combined practice) which would include strength and conditioning drills at the start of practice to boost our overall athleticism. Specifically I would incorporate foot fire and short sprinting drills to enhance the development of fast-twitch muscles and as a result enhance the explosive power of those muscles.
Improving the fitness of the competitive team isn’t the only reason to occasionally separate them from the casual team however. An additional reason is the benefits associated with pitting players of similar skill level against each other. One thing I’ve seen to be true for athletes in general and especially in club tennis is that we tend to rise to the level of our competition. And by that, I don’t mean that we magically acquire more skill or experience when playing more advanced opponents. Rather, that when facing better opponents we tend rise to the challenge and play better than our average, almost as a reflection of the other person’s skill.
In short, these additional practices would stimulate an environment of healthy competition and personal motivation, both of which would lead to strides in the overall skill level of the competitive team. Both ideas, intertwined together, are the primary way I would ensure my group, the UNI tennis club, would be successful. I believe it would help us break away from our current underdog mindset, and help us to be viewed as equal competition at tournaments. My hope would be that we would become highly competitive with the top teams at each tournament instead of the bottom teams. I would also implement my knowledge of group dynamics by critically observing the group through a lens of evaluation so as to implement the leadership styles, group roles, and schedule to most benefit the team.
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