If you work in corporate America and mention "team building," you probably hear a lot of groans. I feel your pain. I've been there. It's rarely effective or interesting.
But it gets results in a lot of other situations. I was first exposed to it in college as a resident assistant. Our hall staff would work our way through initiative courses and other similar activities, while the hall directors and assistant hall directors would also do high ropes courses.
Sports teams obviously are good for this as well, especially girls. Really pushing their emotional boundaries and getting them to trust each other and believe each other is crucial to their success. I've seen great teams fall apart just because of personality issues.
This year I did a lot of research on various team-building activities, and I've used them all. Today I had the kids over my house, and my wife and I cooked them lunch (I'm the chicken grill master). After lunch, we did a few of the things that didn't make sense for the gym.
First, we did a variation of the stranded-in-snowy-mountains scenario where you could only keep certain items from a list. They have only a few minutes to unanimously agree which items they could keep. Obviously this is a lesson in communication, as the answers don't really matter. You get them talking afterward about the frustrations of not getting your way or not feeling your voice is heard. Not a lot of conflict with my group this time, because a lot of them know each other pretty well.
The second activity had them broken into groups where they had to write a poem and perform it aloud to the rest of the team. Hilarities ensue. This one is just about feeling comfortable around each other, not being afraid to look stupid. Helps bring out the shy ones. Each poem was about a particular type of player (D.S., hitters, setter), so everyone got to feel special.
The third activity was a lot more serious. Each kid writes on a card some serious fear, then you mix them up and give everyone someone else's card. Really deep stuff here about death, insecurity, being alone... the most basic and primal fears. Each person has to say how they can identify and understand the fear. It's a very emotional thing for them, to hear someone else identify with some deep-seeded fear. The "debrief" for this activity leads to all kinds of things about trust, understanding and looking out for each other. Even without knowing who wrote what, a lot of connections were made. It was really awesome to see them come together.
Finally, I had the kids play Dance Dance Revolution together. Mark my words, this game will increase a kid's vertical by several inches. I've been doing it for years, and even at 5'8" I can block every kid, regardless of height. It makes a huge difference.
So at this point I think I've finally got them working together as a mental unit, trusting each other and enjoying each other's company. It will require maintenance as the season progresses, but I think I've got a good foundation to work with. We've done a lot of skills work as well. At this point, I can finally start getting hard-core into game theory and get to playing. That, in my opinion, is the easy part.
I expect practice is going to be very cool tomorrow...