by Brian Williams
Teams that have negative cultures surrounding them sap the energy out of everyone involved–most importantly, the players. Teams that have positive cultures add energy to everyone’s tank. Being an “energy giver” is a conscious decision that coaches, players, and parents can make that will make the experience of being a part of the team more enjoyable for everyone. In this article, I will focus on some ways that coaches, can promote a positive culture for their program.
A positive culture doesn’t just happen on its own, it is a cooperative effort between coaches, players, and parents. A good way to set the tone is to have a parent meeting for coaches to clearly communicate their expectations for both players and parents. Coaches and parents will not always agree, but in the most positive team cultures there will be a mutual respect between coaches and parents for the difficult job that each group has.
Put it in writing. For coaches, put your expectations on paper and make sure that each player and each player’s parents have a copy of what those are. It also makes a big difference when players are involved in creating the expectations that they will be held accountable for. Make a list together of no more than a dozen expectations (for youth teams three to five is a good number) that your players agree to be held accountable for. This is not a goals list, it is a written vision for what the players are like in a team with a positive culture.
Examples are: Only positive body language, no excuses, only positive comments to teammates, and 100% effort expected at all times. Those are just a few positive behaviors to get you and your players started on creating your team’s list.
Players on a positive culture team enthusiastically support and follow the expectations that have been established. There are times when players must put what is best for the team ahead of their own desires. That is one of the great lessons taught by basketball!
The number one goal for our coaching staff is to develop a life long relationship with each participant that can never be broken. That motto is the first thing our coaches see when they open their staff notebooks. We operate with that thought in mind during all of our interactions with our players. Our coaches are the leaders for our program, but we can still treat our players as adults and with respect. It also means that we take the time to get to know our players as individuals and not just basketball players. I take a couple of minutes as they are warming up to make sure that I acknowledge each player every day and ask how their days have been so far.
You can be demanding without being demeaning. Developing a positive team culture does not mean that you ignore mistakes, or that you do not coach and correct your players. It means that you make corrections in a way that allows the player to keep his dignity. It has been my experience that players want you to be demanding in order to bring out the best in them. It can be done in a way that doesn’t create animosity.
As an example, one year our players and coaches developed as a part of our expectations that we would practice with the intensity of a state championship team. Certainly a demanding goal. Rather than yelling at our team when our intensity was down, I would simply ask, is that the Winamac (the school I was coaching at) Way that we agreed upon? Then it isn’t personal. It isn’t me picking on them. It is the coach holding the team to the standard that they set for themselves. I encourage you to find similar ways that you can be demanding in positive way with your team.
Teach the Improvement Process. There are really only three ways to improve: Develop a new skill, perform a previously acquired skill more quickly, or perform a skill with better technique. To achieve any of those performance goals, players must push out of their current ability level and comfort zone. When they do that, they will make mistakes. If you as a coach criticize or chastise your players for the mistakes they make that are a part of the improvement process, you are not going to see much improvement.
Coaches must set the tone in practice where your players understand why mistakes are an accepted and expected process of getting better. Mistakes will be viewed as stepping stones toward growth, or sources of frustration depending on how you frame them to your team. If your culture sees mistakes , you will see marked improvement in your players.
I believe that young people thrive in an environment where they feel comfortable. I also believe that they can both feel comfortable and be held accountable at the same time. The bottom line for school and youth teams is for the participants to have a rewarding experience. I would define rewarding as an opportunity to grow as a person and provide the fun that goes with participating in a team sport that enjoy playing. The more positive you can make the team culture, the more rewarding it will be for the players.