Why does teamwork execution breakdown? Experiences of university team sport athletes

Desmond McEwan, Katie Crawford

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (SciVal)
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Teamwork is a dynamic process that can fluctuate over a team’s time together, including within a competition. The purpose of the present study was to better understand why this process breaks down, whereby teams do not demonstrate effective teamwork execution. To do so, 18 British university athletes (11 men, 7 women; M age = 21.4 years) from interdependent team sports were interviewed on two occasions and asked to describe experiences in which their team did not communicate, coordinate, or cooperate effectively during gameplay. Underpinned by a critical realist approach and through abductive thematic analysis, we developed seven themes (comprised of 16 subthemes) which reflected precursors to teamwork breakdowns. These included: (a) ineffective team preparation during training and during the pre-competition warmup; (b) ineffective team monitoring, problem solving, action planning, and conflict management during in-competition transition periods; (c) changes to the team’s roster composition over the season and during games; (d) unhelpful leadership from coaches and athlete leaders during gameplay; (e) poor unity among team members regarding the team’s instrumental objectives and social relationships; (f) problematic levels of confidence between teammates and among the team as a whole; and (g) poor performance of one’s team and successful performances of one’s opponent during the competition. The novel findings from this study extend current knowledge of teamwork and group dysfunction in sport and provide directions for future research on teamwork breakdowns. The potential applied implications for coaches and other team leaders (e.g., sport psychology consultants, and athlete leaders) related to these findings are also highlighted.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)459-476
Number of pages18
JournalSport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology
Issue number4
Early online date7 Mar 2022
Publication statusPublished - 7 Mar 2022


  • Cohesion
  • Group dynamics
  • Leadership
  • Performance
  • Team effectiveness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Psychology
  • Physical Therapy, Sports Therapy and Rehabilitation
  • Applied Psychology


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