CAITLIN BASSETT: Brisbane Lions don’t have to like each other to get the job done

Caitlin Bassett
The Nightly
4 Min Read
The Brisbane Lions don't need to get along to get the job done on the field, writes Caitlin Bassett.
The Brisbane Lions don't need to get along to get the job done on the field, writes Caitlin Bassett. Credit: The Nightly

The AFL is no stranger to feuding teammates — in a team of 40 blokes, it’s just not possible that everyone will get along.

Adelaide Crows legends Andrew McLeod and Tyson Edwards infamously had a falling out after an argument involving their wives.

The rift divided the two champions and despite being long-term teammates, playing 307 games together, they wanted nothing to do with each other off the field.

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After a shocking start to their season Brisbane have been quick to deny an off-season scandal is to blame for their three consecutive losses, rejecting claims there is a rift within the playing group.

If you shone a spotlight you would see cracks in the relationships of teammates at every club, and it’s not actually a big deal because research shows an elite team doesn’t have to like each other to perform.

With Brisbane being flag favourites a few weeks ago, the fact that they haven’t won a game yet this season has outsiders looking for excuses and the now controversial trip some players took to Las Vegas appears like the perfect scapegoat.

The club have gone on the offensive with the Lions moving to quash rumours the trip has caused a player rift and doubling down that it has nothing to do with their on-field performance.

A mentor of mine wrote a PHD on team cohesion and performance outcomes and the findings are intriguing.

There are two types of cohesion important in team sport. Task cohesion is based on tactics and skills while social cohesion relates to how you connect and get along in the sporting environment.

Studies have shown that while enjoying each other’s company and being friends is great, social cohesion (getting along) has no bearing on task cohesion (being good at performing together).

I have experienced this phenomenon over the course of my netball career.

At times relationships in the group weren’t particularly close but there was enough respect between us that we could get on court and perform for the sake of the team. There were players who refused to room together on away trips, sit next to each other at dinner or even pass together in the warm-up.

While at times it was awkward once you were out on court together the desire to win overtook any personality differences.

Training every day and travelling for games is obviously more enjoyable when you like and get along with your teammates but in elite sport it’s impossible for everyone to connect or even get along.

This means you can have a team win a premiership with players who don’t even like each other.

If they trust and respect their role in the team and deliver in that role, the rest doesn’t matter.

I can imagine there would be some fractured relationships within the Lions group off the back of the off-season rumours.

However, a lack of social cohesion caused by a potential rift would not affect the ability to perform together.

It’s hard to know unless you are in the environment and those internally have a more accurate insight into what the issues really are compared to those, like us, who are purely looking in from the outside.

Let’s not forget they are a professionally run club under a highly-regarded coach Chris Fagan and have all the off-field support any team would need with mental health specialists included in that.

I have a better reason for the slow start — post grand final blues are a real thing as we have seen with the hangover Collingwood have also suffered in their premiership defence.

When you win something you have been working towards for so long, or come close like Brisbane did, the next competition is always bound to be impacted.

BRISBANE, AUSTRALIA - MARCH 28: Lachie Neale of the Lions walks off the field with head coach Chris Fagan after their defeat during the round three AFL match between Brisbane Lions and Collingwood Magpies at The Gabba, on March 28, 2024, in Brisbane, Australia. (Photo by Albert Perez/AFL Photos via Getty Images )
Lachie Neale walks off the field with head coach Chris Fagan after their defeat to Collingwood. Credit: Albert Perez/AFL Photos/via Getty Images

It’s like a depressive episode afterwards, you are so exhausted and hurt to think about doing it all again. It can be overwhelming.

In 2018, after losing the Commonwealth Games final by one goal to England, a week later I returned to my club the Sunshine Coast Lightning depressed and exhausted. We were the reigning premiers and went on to lose the first three games of the season before finding our groove again and going on to win back-to-back titles despite our disastrous start.

We only had 11 games to get our season back on track, with 20 games left in this AFL season there is plenty of time for the Lions to turn things around.

A win against a struggling North Melbourne in the Gather Round would have them perfectly positioned to regain their confidence.

The off-season incident is not ideal for Brisbane but there are so many variables that impact success I just don’t believe this one is to blame.

If they have another three losses on the trot, well that might be another story.

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