Coaches Corner: On Changing A Culture


Vanessa Walby is the new head volleyball coach at Washington University in St. Louis, but before that, she was the head coach at the University of Chicago. A perennial loser, Chicago had never even finished in the top half of their conference, let alone achieved a national ranking. So you can understand that folks were probably skeptical about Walby’s quote immediately after being hired:

“My vision for the program is within the next four or five year to have them compete competitively at conference and competitively nationally. My goal by the time the incoming freshman are seniors is that we’re ranked in the top 25 in the Division III NCAA poll.”

As crazy as it sounded then…she went out and did exactly what she said she’d do. Here’s how:

5 keys to changing a losing team culture

  1. Support from her administration. Walby was able to get a full-time assistant and a great recruiting budget. None of us operates in a vacuum and we need our administration to support our program’s path to success.
  2. Tougher scheduling. Like many teams that are used to losing, her team didn’t understand what it took to compete at a high level. Scheduling Top 25 teams helped show her team where they wanted to be and also helped prepare them for conference play in one of the toughest Division III leagues in the country.
  3. Changed the practice schedule. This was a two-fold change. First, she changed her practice times so that they made more sense for athletes at a highly academic institution. Secondly, she used her preseason for individual practices in order to instill technique and skill.
  4. Seniors were hungry for success. Whenever you take over a new team, the returners (especially the upperclassmen) need to buy in so that the path is smooth for whatever the new coach has in store.
  5. Winning a big game turned the tide. We coaches can say that we believe in our teams until we’re blue in the face, but sometimes they need some proof. Beating the team they’ve never beat or taking down a nationally ranked opponent can do the trick.

Changing a negative team culture isn’t easy, but it can be done. Hopefully these tips can help you!

The Vanessa Walby series

Coaches Corner: Vanessa Walby
Coaches Corner: The Power Of Female Mentorship

Join me in a series of interviews with successful coaches.  I believe what we learn from our coaching peers can be applied to our teams, our recruiting efforts, and how we behave as professionals. These interviews will be less Q & A and much more philosophical in nature, keep coming back to see who I’m talking to and what they’ve got to say!