Improving Athletic Team Culture

How Team Culture Impacts Team Success

What is the leadership like on your team?

How is the culture within your team?

Does the leader influence and support the culture?

Leadership, or effective leadership can often be hard to find on a team.

Many times, the best player on the team might be designated as leader or captain. Or, the players with seniority regularly become captain due to their experience.

Though, they may not be suited for that position.

For instance, I have coached a girl in volleyball for the past four years. She was the best player on the floor for her team and often better than anyone on the opposing side of the net.

She “led” through her play, however, her leadership skills were few and far between.

In this player’s sophomore year, she was assigned captain along with two seniors.

The environment became so rough and negative because it was obvious this player was not a very good leader, and her teammates started complaining about her being a “captain.”

There was a lot of Conflict and that Situation Negatively Affected the Culture Overall

There was an incident about half way through the season that resulted in this player being pulled as captain.

The other coaches on staff and myself thought it would be a good challenge for this young, talented player to be placed in a leadership role.

However, she is not naturally a leader. She cared more about herself than her team, and that clearly showed.

Also, she was not always the same person. Some days she was really positive and upbeat, and other days she got in arguments with teammates and even coaches.

The team struggled with that because they did not know who was going to show up each day.

Teams need good leadership if they are going to be successful overall.

They need someone who is positive, encouraging, supportive, selfless, and consistent day in and day out with their actions and behavior.

Another Factor that Heavily Effects the Success of a Team is the Culture

Historically, Duke University is known as a basketball school. Quite often, people think of Duke and they think of Coach K and basketball dominance.

A few years back, Coach Cutcliffe took head of the football program. Duke football never really had a “season to remember” and they were regularly at the bottom of the ranks.

Though, under Cutcliffe’s reigns, Duke football has finished the majority of their seasons in a bowl game.

I heard Dr. Greg Dale, the sport psychologist at Duke, speak at a conference last year and when he spoke of the development within the program, he heavily emphasized the “culture.”

Cutcliffe came in and he changed the culture. He changed the environment, the leadership, the standards, and even the type of players he brought to Duke.

One of his values, which was adopted by the program, was that “you leave a place better than it was when you got there.”

When the Culture Changes, Performance Changes

The more powerful the culture, the more powerful the performance.

Look at any successful, championship team…

What is their team culture like?

Who are the leaders impacting that environment and what are they like?

What goes into creating a good team culture?

If You Want to be a Better Leader, Help Develop a Better Culture

Be the first in the locker room and the last to leave, run with a teammate who has not finished their conditioning yet, or encourage joy and happiness.

Understand and accept each person for their individuality, leave your world outside of sports away from practice and games, and be consistent each day.

Focus on the process, embrace morals and values, be a good listener, and care more about others…

As Cutcliffe says:

“Leave the place better than how you found it;” and like Iguodala said about Curry: “He’s a solid human being.”

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