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belonging cues

Updated: Dec 28, 2023

i've now been in the UK for a month. and within this time i've experienced a multitude of new environments - whether that's meeting my partner's family, exploring new cities, or the various trials i've been to. new environments are inherently daunting. they're unfamiliar. they're uncomfortable. but there's a few things people can do within these environments that make the world of difference to someone who is feeling apprehensive.


admittedly i've been fortunate that in all the trials i've been to, everyone has been extremely nice. i haven't experienced the cattiness or bitchiness that can sometimes accompany a potential 'threat' in a new environment. having said that, some teams have been more welcoming than others, with one in particular standing out. so how can you make someone feel welcome? what are important actions to execute to ensure that an environment feels as safe as it possibly can?


  1. prior to arrival, the first thing a team can do is to communicate. make sure that you've explained clearly how to get to a location - where you need to go, where you can park, what you need to wear, and where / who you're going to meet. i arrived at my very first trial here to a boom gate which i couldn't enter, and a car park i had to walk half a mile from just to get to the club rooms. i then couldn't find the team, only to find out that they were in a meeting before heading in for a gym session - none of which was communicated to me prior. on the contrary, other clubs clearly communicated their plans for the evening, where to meet, and the people i might meet during my trial (coaches, staff etc). giving people this information prior to their arrival helps to build familiarity in an unfamiliar environment. it also helps to make the individual feel like they're a priority rather than an afterthought.

  2. upon arriving it's imperative to have someone meet the person - whether that's a captain, a coach, or some other teammate. it's then important to get them to show the person around or introduce them to others. new environments can be overwhelming. you're trying your best to learn 20 people's names in the space of 5 minutes (and you're going to forget a lot of them). having someone who identifies themselves as the point of contact can aid in making someone feel comfortable. almost like a buddy in a way.

  3. be forthcoming with assistance, especially if someone isn't local to an area. do they need somewhere to stay? somewhere to eat? what are their plans after training? do they need help finding a job? can you share some of your knowledge of the area to aid in the individual having to investigate and discover these things for themselves. better yet, can you include them in some of your plans. in novel environments, when someone is feeling apprehensive, they're unlikely to ask for help. anticipating what someone might need can go a long way in ensuring they feel both safe and comfortable.

  4. use forward focused language. when people are trialling at multiple places, they're essentially putting the team on trial too. they're assessing - is this a good fit? am i welcome here? will i be valued? things like using forward focused language can help an individual feel like they're a part of the team. e.g. things like - "you'll score a lot of goals for us this season" or "when are you signing for us?"

  5. acknowledge their strengths! no matter how experienced or confident an individual is, they're not immune to feeling the effects of self-doubt in new environments.

  6. follow up promptly. make sure you seek the player out to have the conversation. don't wait for them to come to you. ask them when they're coming back to train with you again. ask if there's anything you can do to help them in coming back. and acknowledge their strengths. players want and need to feel wanted. coaches that are indifferent, that don't have a plan for a player's return or a plan for the player to sign, make the player feel like they're not that valued. if someone is interested in you, they'll make it known.

  7. uniforms. i've mentioned this in "how to make someone feel valued" - the sooner that individual can look like everyone else, the sooner they'll feel like everyone else - the sooner they'll be an insider rather than an outsider.


as i mentioned, i've now trialled at five different clubs. admittedly the first two clubs were only for a session, but the last three have been for a week. and there's one club, one person, that stood out to me in executing the majority of the points mentioned above. this person spoke to me prior to training, asked me about my past, then during training acknowledged my strengths. he could see i was good in the air and said "you're going to cost me a lot of money this year with scoring goals." this is vastly different from a previous team who, upon scoring multiple goals in training from set pieces, claimed it was due to my height rather than skill.


the biggest thing this coach did though, was he asked where i was staying that night. he then offered his number and said "if you're bored later, we're going to this bar if you want to hang out." not only was this an opportunity to socialise, but he also offered to pick me up. to take the uncertainty out of being in an unfamiliar environment. and to create an opportunity to learn more about one another. the following day he followed up by asking if i wanted to meet in the city to go shopping for christmas attire and proceeded to show me around the club's facilities. admittedly this team trains from 3-5pm so it's a lot easier to have these sort of interactions but it's a stark contrast to opposing teams and their approach. i ran into coaches from a team i had just trialled with at a restaurant for dinner. they said hello, acknowledged me, but then didn't invite me to sit with them. so i ended up eating alone. it might not seem like a big deal, but that's the difference between someone feeling like an insider and an outsider.


other coaches and teams have been seemingly okay with me trialling for other clubs. there's two ways to interpret this: these coaches are extremely nice and understanding of my situation, wanting me to explore all options before making a decision, or they're indifferent if i sign for them. this has been one thing i've really struggled with in the UK. if anyone of quality trials with a team in Adelaide, we are doing whatever we can to sign them. even if we can't guarantee a starting position, if they have ability, add value, and don't cost a fortune, why wouldn't you sign them? why would you risk a decent player playing for an opposition team? if someone wants you, they make it known. it would be like going on a date with someone and them saying, "i'm okay if you go on other dates and i don't see you again for another month." you just wouldn't do that. again, it's the importance of forward focused language.


it's also important to invite an individual to more than one trial. i think that's what was so hard about the trial i had with an a-league team - it was a one day trial, the day after a game. as a coach here mentioned, "i'm not willing to assess anyone off one session. because they're nervous, it's an unfamiliar environment, no one is going to excel in that." acknowledging the role that an environment has on an individual is imperative for being unbiased in your selection process.


so what does all of this come down to? it comes down to making an environment feel safe. the safer individuals feel, the more confident they'll be. as i've referenced previously with Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs - there are certain things individuals need before they can reach their excellence. even prior to feeling safe, people need basic physiological needs met. food. water. sleep. stability. if a team can assist in any of those, it goes a long way in making an individual satiate the next tier of needs - safety. the next tier above safety is love and belongingness. so what are some ways you can make someone feel like they belong? use belonging cues. daniel coyle talks about these in the culture code. use phrases that communicate, you are part of this group, this group is special, and i believe in you.


dissecting this one team's behaviour, they executed these cues by inviting me into their group. asking me to socialise. sitting with me for lunch. asking me when i was signing. getting excited when i was on their team because i'm a 'class' player. they communicated that their group is special by the facilities they have access to and they further communicated their belief in me with their forward focused language.


so the next time you have someone new trial for your team or workplace, are you able to think about the aforementioned points. how can you make them feel safe? what belonging cues are you sending them? can you be forthcoming with assistance, rather than waiting for them to come to you? and how quickly can you get them to put pen to paper? to make their uncertainty, certain?


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