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Developing an Effective Team Culture

Ryan Hedstrom
Manchester College

One of the most important jobs as a coach is to develop and foster a team culture. This culture, or identity, is really the foundation of all effective teams. As a coach this culture is your vision or philosophy put into action. As you think back to teams on which you have coached or played, the team culture probably was a main ingredient in your success or failure. So, what are some ideas for developing an effective team culture?

  1. Clear Goals and Expectations. As I am sure you know from past coaching successes and failures, clear expectations is one of the most vital ingredients in leading a team. For instance, a basketball coach I know lays out his ABC’S for the team…Academics, Basketball, Community, and Service. Each of these tenants has several points that he advocates throughout the season. All of his players know the ABC’S and the team culture is built around these fundamental ideas.
  2. Use Your Supporting Cast. Utilize different members of team in developing the team culture. Captains, assistant coaches, parents, etc. can all facilitate team identity. For instance, if there are certain tasks that could be taken on by others then delegate to the appropriate member(s) of the team. Spreading the group work around will foster a sense of ownership in players and support staff. Also, getting everyone involved in deciding on team goals and expectations can alleviate discipline and team chemistry issues during the season. Having everyone understand their unique role is vital to overall success. For instance, helping a bench player understand the contribution that he or she makes during practice or with other tasks (and helping others see the importance of that role as well) can really help in commitment to the team. However, remember that ultimately you as the coach set the tone with expectations so make sure your entire supporting cast are working towards the same goals!
  3. Praise Your Culture. Make sure as a coach you focus on praising the “right kind” of culture. If you value hard work and maximum effort…when you see it praise it. If your team identity is based on working on individual goals…praise goal attainment in a team setting. Focusing on the “right kind” of team behavior (based on goals and expectations) really sets a tone for what you expect and how the entire team can live out the team culture.
  4. Show Off Your Culture. It is important to find tangible ways to show off your culture. Items such as T-shirts with a special team saying or signs that show off a team uniqueness definitely provide a feeling of team that facilitates a sense of identity. These items do not need to be costly but do need to focus your team around those things that make your culture unique.

Creating an effective team culture is vital to your leadership as a coach. Here are some questions to ask yourself when preparing for the season:

  1. What are my goals and expectations for the team?
  2. How can I facilitate team feedback in developing these goals and expectations?
  3. What can I do to stress these goals and expectations during the season?
  4. How can I use team members and others in developing our team culture?
  5. What are ways the team can show off their culture and uniqueness during the season?

Suggested Reading:
Martens, R. (2004). Successful coaching (3rd ed). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics Publishing.