Team Unity and Cohesiveness by John Casadia Jr. (2004)


John Casadia:  BS in Biology, from Monmouth University (1966) Graduate work in the field of Biology. Taught Biology at Vineland High School for 39 years (retired July, 2004). Married, with two sons, both adults.Started the Vineland High School Swim Team in 1973. Coached both Girls and Boys until 1992, then just the girls to the present time, 18 straight Boys League Titles and 2 Sectional Titles, 4 Girls League Titles, 5 Sectional and 5 State Division “A” Team Titles, Numerous State Champions, All Americans, and Nationally ranked swimmers. Coached the Dolphin Swim Team during the summer months from 1963 to present.  Other: Publishes a weekly newsletter highlighting Team events, meets, and splits. Publishes a yearly Swim Team Yearbook covering the entire swim season. Produces a color poster of the Team which is distributed throughout the District and Community. The Team conducts several Community Service Projects throughout the year supporting needy families in the Community, charities, and senior citizens.Team Members serve as role models, visiting area schools participating in “Read Across America.”



I’d like to thank the ASCA and NISCA for providing me the opportunity to share with you some of the ways we use at Vineland High School to help create team unity and cohesiveness in our swim program.


Let me first share with you a little background information about our program at Vineland.  I have coached swimming at Vineland since the early 70’s when the program first began.  At this time the team was co-ed.  By the late 70’s, the teams were split, the boys competing in a league, while the girls swam independently until a league formed for them.  I coached both teams until the early 90’s.  I did not coach the 92-93 season, but returned for the start of the ’93 season, coaching only the Girl’s Swim Team, which I continue to coach today.


When our team started in the 70’s, we had no pool and were on split sessions.  The pool we used was four lanes with no lane lines.  In 1976, we moved into our new high school with a six lane, 25 meter pool.  We have balcony seating which can accommodate 300-400 spectators.  Full Colorado timing and scoreboard were added in the mid-80’s.  Our program was successful even when we didn’t have our own facility with training limited to 3-4 days a week with each session about 1-1 ½ hours.  I must admit that having our own pool does make it easier.  I mention this just to let you know that success is possible even if you don’t have your own facility.


As we proceed today, please keep in mind your imagination, philosophy, and style are vital to establishing the atmosphere and direction you take in order to foster team unity and cohesiveness, which is always a work in progress.  Team unity and cohesiveness can’t be “force fed”.  It’s got to occur slowly and naturally.  In my opinion one of the most essential steps in this process must be to make every member feel they are important to the team.  Not everyone can excel as a swimmer or diver and your job must be to find how each team member can contribute to the team in a positive manner.  Throughout the presentation you will see how we “tap” the talent pool of every team member.


Since our goal has been established, team unity and cohesiveness, we need a plan.  This is our PLAN.




Establishing Team Rules:


At VHS we first want to reach out to all possible swim team candidates.  We do this through the local newspaper and posters in the middle schools.  We invite these candidates to our end of the year Awards Party.  They are given a handbook outlining team rules and what is expected of them.  It is very important that ALL team members know the rules and expectations.  List your state, district, athletic, and team rules clearly.  Believe me, this will help you in the long run!  The candidates can also get a “feel” for the team in a social environment.


NOTE: I should mention here that we attempt to have as many “away from pool” activities as possible because the atmosphere is far more relaxed.  Also, make sure your administration is going to back any special team rules you may have.


Captains vs. No Captains:


This is always a “hot” issue.  The bottom line is it’s your decision.  There are pros and cons to both.  I have found that making all seniors “leaders” has worked out well.  I assign leadership roles that fit each senior’s personality and strengths .  This way all seniors feel important.


Keeping with the idea of not having a single captain, we do not select an “MVP”, nor do we keep track of who has the most first places or who scores the most points in a meet or throughout the season.  One of the only individual statistics that we recognize, other than attendance, in our yearbook are those team members who have gone undefeated or are recognized for scholarships or All Star Teams selected by coaches or the newspapers.




It is important to keep an open line of communication between you and your athletic director and building principal.  Keep them well informed on what you are doing, both in and out of the pool.  Also, let board members, administrators, and state representatives know when your team is doing something special or unique.


We make use of our school announcements made via television every morning by the students in our broadcasting class to relay information about meets, highlighting as many swimmers and divers as possible.  The broadcasting classes also videotape most of our home meets which are later aired on our local TV channel.  They do an exceptional job with several cameras positioned in the balcony and pool area.  Adults knowledgeable in swimming and diving serve as color commentators.  The crew also travels to away sectional and state tournament meets.  Local businesses sponsor these meets.


Supporting Other School Teams:


We attend many football, basketball, soccer, and other sports games and matches whenever possible wearing our team shirts and jackets.  Our goal is not only to support other school teams, but encourage their fans to attend our meets as well.


Parent / Fan Shirts:


We encourage our parents and fans to purchase logo swimming polo shirts and wear them to our meets.  Profits from the sale of these shirts are used for community service projects.


Hairy Legs Contest:


Our girls are not permitted to shave from November until February, just prior to the State Sectional Dual Meet Tournament.  In New Jersey, the State Team Champion for the various school divisions is determined by head to head dual meet competition.  The NISCA power point system is used to determine the teams in the tournament and for seeding purposes.  Prior to this tournament, we have a “Hairy Legs” contest.  Senior members of our wrestling team and their coach are the “judges” for various categories such as longest hair, darkest hair, ugliest hair, etc..  It’s a really exciting and fun time and helps to draw the team together and focus.  Guys could have a similar contest.  Instead of “Hairy Legs”, they could have a contest on designs shaved into the hair on their heads..


Decorating Buses and Pool Areas:


For special meets, our moms often decorate the pool for home meets and the buses for away meets.  The seniors write and post special notes to each team member on the bus windows.


Community Service Projects:


We require our girls to conduct at least two major community service projects every year.  The seniors select the projects which are approved by the AD and Board of Education.  Several projects we have done are:  Tiny Tim Caroling during the holidays, which supports crippled children; Project graduation, where students are bused to an undisclosed resort for a supervised night of various activities immediately after graduation; and adopting a needy family during the holidays, providing them with food and clothing.  In the past the team has generated money to send several families who have had a child or parent with cancer to Disney World or on special cruises.


At this point you may be saying to yourself that the activites mentioned thus far have nothing to do with swimming fast or deal specifically with team unity and cohesiveness.  Remember, as I said earlier,  team unity and cohesiveness must occur slowly and naturally, and these activities go a long way to establishing a solid foundation.  In the long run, the team will beome  a stronger unit and a faster one too!




I’d like to continue now with the aid of a power point presentation.

NOTE: In New Jersey both boys and girls swimming is in the winter, which begins November 15 and ends about the first week of March.  We cannot train our athletes outside of these dates except during summer recess.


Let’s begin the presentation with additional ways we use to help build team unity and cohesiveness.




FIRE TRUCK / POSTER Every summer we have a three week stroke technique camp.  After the camp we have a “photo shoot”.  These photos are used for our annual poster, which highlights every team member, the meet schedule, and sponsors.  The posters are distributed throughout our high school, middle schools, and community.  This year we had the photos taken on a fire truck.


PUZZLE IN ROOM        At the end of our summer camp, we also have a pre-season Team / Parent get-together.  We review team rules and introduce new team members and their parents.  We also try to have a special game with a lesson behind it.  The painting you see here is actually a puzzle in three sections.  All three sections are cut so that the piece from one section can fit into another section.  We divide the team into three groups and mix all the pieces up and have a contest to see who can put their puzzle together first.  (They are unaware that the pieces from all three sections are mixed up.)  They quickly realize that while a piece may fit, it doesn’t belong to their puzzle and need the help from their teammates in the other groups to accurately complete their puzzle.  This kind of activity is a step teaching them the importance of working together to succeed.


CLOTH WITH STRIPES Another time we had our two strongest girls attempt to rip a cloth in two by pulling in opposite directions.  They couldn’t do it no matter how hard they tried.  Then I put a small split in the cloth and it tore easily.  The lesson:  the team is the cloth – when it is whole, it is very strong; but when a “rip” (say a swimmer quits) the overall team (cloth) is weakened, BUT when the team rallies (the rip sewn up), it actually becomes stronger.


SLEEPOVER     We have two sleepovers, generally one before the season and one during the season.  This year’s preseason sleepover was held at a swimmer’s summer home during the early fall.  The in-season sleepover was held during February.  Both serve to solidify the team.  Gamers, singing, dancing, skits, and designing special team tee-shirts are some of the activities held at these sleepovers.  They are, of course, supervised by the host family.


RAFTING          In October we have a father /daughter rafting trip.  We raft the Upper Gauley River in West Virginia.  Rafting stresses the need for Teamwork!




TEAM /PARENT BRUNCH         The first Sunday of our dual meet season, we host a catered team / parent brunch.  The team members wear their travel shirts and at least one parent is expected to attend.  The seniors are in charge of decorating the hall we use.  Underclassmen clean up afterwards.  We discuss the season’s goals (which have been previously established by the seniors and discussed with the team).  The seniors also address issues the team will face throughout the season.  This is very helpful especially for new parents.  We also have a guest speaker.  This year’s speaker was a noted area pediatrician who addressed the dangers of inhalants and proper nutrition.


PASTA PARTY Prior to every meet, a team member’s family hosts a pasta party.  The host family provides the pasta and side dishes.  Team members provide drinks and desserts.  After dinner, the team makes posters for the next day’s meet which are placed throughout the school the following day.  The assigned meet captain reads the line-up again (it’s also posted several days prior to the meet so swimmers can prepare for their events and also to let parents know they are swimming in the meet).


VIDEOGRAPHY Also note the students preparing to tape a particular meet.


POSTERS IN HALLWAY            Here are a couple of the posters decorating our hallway.


POSTER DEDICATION & PROJECT GRADUATION         At our first meet we honor the individual who the team dedicated their poster to for that year.  Also, money generated for Project Graduation is presented to the advisors of the activity.


SENIOR / PARENT NIGHT         This special night is always held at the team’s final regular season dual meet.  Seniors and their parents are honored with a special framed photo taken at the Team Parent Brunch earlier in the season.




PERSONALIZED EQUIPMENT   To add distinction and class to the team, a number of designer items including suits, caps, swim bags, and goggle bags are given to every team member.


TRAVEL SHIRTS          All team members are required to wear their team shirt to school and meets on the day of the competition.  For all home meets, team members wear their warm-ups to school.  This not only identifies members of our team, but also lets the students and teachers know they have a meet that day.


MANAGER’S SHIRTS    We provide special shirts to all of our managers which distinguishes them and recognizes them as special members of the team.


SOCK CAPS     To encourage members to use a hat during the cold winter months and help identify team members to others in our school and community, we have logo sock caps available to the team.


SPECIAL SHIRTS          Each season we try to design a unique tee-shirt with the season’s team goals in mind.  This year our shirt said, “Chasing Perfection”.  This is another way to get everyone on the team involved and to spread the word about swimming in our school and community.




THE YEARBOOK & “THE BUOY”                      Throughout the season, we publish a weekly newsletter called “The Buoy”, which contains pertinent information about the team and its members.  Meet results, splits, academic achievements, and team members are also highlighted in this publication.  The Yearbook contains a season wrap-up and highlights every team member.  Photos are also included in this 300 plus page yearbook.  Both “The Buoy” and Yearbook are free and distributed not only to team members, but also to board members, administrators, friends, the local newspaper, and alumni.




TROPHY CASE (GENERAL)       We have our own trophy case and try to exhibit not only trophies, but also items that reflect the philosophy of the team.


ACADEMIC PADDLES  We have a paddle for year.  We place the names of the team members who have achieved academic excellence during the two marking periods of the season on the paddle.


RAZOR JAR      We have a special jar for the guys who shave their heads for states.  The girls have a razor jar to place their razors in on November 15, the start of our season when they stop shaving.


HAIR JAR         A close up of the hair jar.  The art department painted these jars for us.



We’ve already explained the “hair jar”.  The life savers were given to every member when they won their State Team Title.  The “Rooster Award” was created to honor two swimmers on the team who were extremely quiet, but hard workers.  The rooster is also our school mascot.


H2O Bottles       For big meets the team carries their “home” water to the meets and prior to the meet, they have a special ritual where they pour water into the visiting pool.


GOLDEN WRENCH AWARD      At the beginning of every season a freshman is “selected” to be the “lane line” president.  The president is in charge of all their fellow freshmen.  They take out the lanes after practice.  There is a special application each freshman must fill out.  They must secure signatures of at least four upperclassmen.  The upperclassmen “charge” them some home baked goody for their signature.  If the president does a good job, their name is place on the Golden Wrench plaque at the end of season.




NOTE: If you do not have your own pool, ask where you train if you can use a wall or section of wall for your team information, or ask your principal for a section of hallway wall.


MURAL            I received a grant and commissioned our Art Club to create a painting for the hallway just outside our pool.


NISCA ALL-AMERICAN SCHOLASTIC AREA    This area recognizes the team members who have achieved NISCA Scholastic All-American honors.


RECORDBOARD & BANNERS  Team records. League, sectional, and state titles are displayed on the pool walls.


STATE SHIRTS Every team member signed the State Shirt which recognizes the team’s accomplishment.


PHOTOS FROM THE PAST                    It’s nice to recognize alumni team members and also show current team members that they will always be a part of our team.


ALUMNI LETTERS & NOTES    We post all of the correspondence received from alumni and others in this area for all to read.  We also put these letters in “The Buoy”.


GENERAL PHOTOS WALL                    In case you are wondering who takes all of the photos on the pool walls, it’s an alumni parent.  Jerry Spall has taken thousands of photos over the last ten years.  These photos are also used for our annual yearbook and then placed on the pool walls.




BUCKETS, SNORKELS & WEIGHT BELTS         We all use aides in our practices.  Using snorkels, fins, and weight belts adds diversity to workouts.  To get everyone involved at practice, sometimes we’ll change the lane leaders, play “follow the leader”, or change the lanes the swimmers are in.  This gets them out of their “comfort zone” and provides additional challenges.  They also get to swim with teammates who generally do not practice in their lanes.  Another thing we do is change warm-ups.  We never have the same warm-ups or practice.


GOAL CHARTS & RACE PACE CARDS Prior to the first meet, every swimmer is given a Prelim Goal Sheet.  They select two events they wish to specialize in and their goal times in these events.  They must also indicate whether what they think it will take to achieve these goals  (all p.m. practices, a.m. workouts, weight training, etc.).  Then we meet one on one to make sure the goals are realistic and that the effort they have indicated is in line with their goals.  They sign the Prelim Goal Sheet.  The managers write the goal times on two goal cards, one for their bedroom and one for their locker.  A Race Pace Card is given outlining the necessary splits to accomplish their goals.  They must memorize these times in both short course meters and yards for broken swims at practice.


BREAKTHROUGHS       Another set we do twice a week (one set is free, the other stroke) are breakthroughs.  The free set involves swimming 12 x 100’s on the 2:00 minutes.  For the stroke set, 16 x 50’s on the 1:30 are swam.  These times are recorded, averaged, and posted.  The goal is to get faster each week.  Managers do the recording, averaging, and posting of these times.


MEETS We’ll often use photos or videotapes to help a swimmer better understand their stroke, timing, breathing, etc..


SPLIT SHEETS  After the meets we publish the meet results and splits in “The Buoy” an also post the results on the pool wall.


TOP 25 TIMES  To encourage swimmers to try different strokes, we post the top 25 times fore every event.  It is a challenge to get on the list in one or more events.




NOTE: In New Jersey the Team State Championship is determined by a round robin dual meet tournament.  Divisions are determined by school size.  There are a maximum of five meets in the tournament over about 2 ½ weeks.  After the State Dual Meet Tournament, a two-day Meet of Champions is held for individuals who have qualified. This meet is not scored.


Our major emphasis is on the Team Dual Meet Tournament and then on the Individual Meet of Champions.


“DAYS OUT”     We count down the days to States, starting with the first practice.


INDIVIDUAL STAE CHARTS     As team members qualify for the Meet of Champions, we place their name on this chart.


POWER POINT CHART The NISCA power point system is used to determine the teams who qualify for the Team Dual Meet Tournament.  This system awards points for the times in every event regardless of placing, so every team member counts!!  The chart you see here indicates the meets and power points received in meets.  Swimmers are given a power point chart at the beginning of the season so they can figure out how many points they are helping their team score.  The power points for each event are also listed on the meet sheets which are posted.


DECORATING BUS                               The moms do this for big away meets.


“EXAM TIME” & “TIME TO SHINE        The State Dual Meet Tournament creates a great deal of excitement since every team member contributes.  We shave and taper for this tournament.  We hold a “Hairy Legs” contest which was mentioned earlier.  The swimmers also write slogans on their backs, legs, and arms.


TEAM CHAMPIONS      Photos like this one will be used at the beginning of next season to emphasize the need for hard, long practices, and for team unity and cohesiveness.  A teacher made this collage of photos for the team and it is also used to reinforce the need for hard training, etc..


“BOXERS”       The athletes going to Individual States (generally about a week after Team Tournament) design “boxers” with their state slogan and the events they are swimming in at the meet.


STATE SLOGAN SHIRTS           We have this tradition in which the swimmers going to the Individual States must come up with a slogan with exactly the same number of letters as there are swimmers going to the states.  Each swimmer selects a letter from the slogan which is printed on the back of their State Shirt.  Prior to State Finals, the girls line-up and reveal to their fans and others, the slogan.  This year’s slogan was “The Quad Squad”.


HANDKERCHIEF          This special club honors team members who have distinguished themselves throughout the season.  It is given to team members who are always ready and willing to help out their team.  They are, much like a handkerchief, always there when you need them, and do the job without fanfare.


PHOTO & COMMENT BOOKLETS         We had a friend of the team purchase cameras one year for every team member.  Each team member was then assigned a fellow team member to take photos of throughout the season.  At the end of the season, prior to the Team tournament, I collected the cameras, developed the film, and made photo albums for each team member.  The same was done with the “Comment Booklet”, only each team member had to write something anonymously about every one of their teammates.  At the end of the season, each member was given their booklet.


READ ACROSS AMERICA        The team participates in various community service projects.  One of the activities they enjoy the most is reading to youngsters in the Read Across America Program.  The children in one class gave them the “hand print” poster you see here.


CANOE RACE   At the team’s Award Party held at a local river, we have an “anything goes” canoe race.  The upperclassmen are in one canoe and the underclassmen in another.  It’s a great, fun event.


CONCLUSION   As you all know, high school sports is a means to a bigger end than just winning.  High school sports teaches the values of unity, tenacity, commitment, loyalty, and sharing which are not always a part of their regular school curriculum.  It teaches them to be a team player.  Sports creates friendships that last a lifetime.  Athletes must be sensitive to the needs of others while pursuing their own personal goals.  They also develop all-important time management skills.


While this presentation centered around creating team unity and cohesiveness on your own team, remember that we are preparing them for much greater challenges in life.  How you accomplish this end is up to you.  Use your personal experiences and locale.  If you live in a large city for example, visit a museum.  If you live in the suburbs, plan a hike, canoe trip, etc..  As I’ve tried to show you today, make sure you include every team member: swimmers, divers, and managers.  Make sure that everyone feels important in one way or another.  Be sure to enlist the help of their parents and members of the community.  Keep your administrators and board members up to date with their team happenings.  Get your team involved in their community and invite your local newspapers to write about these activities.  All of this will go a long way to establish pride in your program.  Team unity and cohesiveness will then simply fall into place.


Thanks again to ASCA and NISCA for permitting me the opportunity to share some of the things we do in our program at Vineland High School with you today.


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