Tag Archives: Team chemistry

Creating A Connected Culture

connected culturesource

When members of a group of any size, from a basketball team to a business organization, share a vision that makes them feel proud, feel valued, and feel that they have a voice to express their ideas and opinions, it creates a connection, a bond, a feeling of unity or esprit de corps.
Why Coach K Coaches Like a Girl

Okay, I don’t like the title of the article I quoted above.  First of all, girls aren’t typically coaches, women are.  Second of all, it’s repetitious (coach, coaches).  Lastly, comparing a grown person to a child of another gender is rarely a compliment.  That being said, I get it.  It comes across as a slight or maybe even a slam against Coach K when, in actuality, the author paints “coaching like a girl” is a positive.

He’s being provocative.

The author does a great job of describing why Coach K’s been successful…attributing it to the female presence in his life.  I don’t know how true or accurate that is and I certainly don’t think you have to be a woman to create a connected team.  What I really enjoyed about the article was his formula:

Vision + Value + Voice = Connected Culture

Vision:  I believe this has to be two-fold.  Vision for each individual player: an athlete will put up with not playing, with being pushed mentally and physically, with a whole lot…as long as they see how it fits into the grand plan.  And of course we’ve got to have a vision for the program.  That vision will influence how we recruit, how we plan practices, how we schedule opponents…everything.

Value:  Our players invest a lot of themselves into our program.  Their time, their heart, their passion, their egos.  We ask a lot of them and they give us a lot, the least we can do is make sure they know we appreciate what they’re putting into the program.

Voice:  This doesn’t mean that you always do what your players ask of you, but they should feel comfortable in their belief that their opinions will be heard and considered.

Giving our teams a vision of the future of the program, combined with valuing their effort and giving them a voice is a great way for us to create a team culture that will withstand the normal ups and downs of a season.

Wooden’s Three Team Rules

Rules listsource

Are you one of those coaches with a page full of team rules?  Or do you not believe in team rules?  Or perhaps you fall somewhere in the middle.  Personally, I don’t have a lot of team rules because I don’t know if it’s possible to enforce a lot of rules…and why have them if they aren’t going to be enforced?

Check out John Wooden’s rules and see if they can be applied to your team:

  1. Be on time.  I’ve talked to coaches at every level and of many sports and they all are sticklers about time.  I’m not big on team rules, but it’s one of mine.  Maybe it’s because we spend so much time on practice plans and the athletes can screw it all up with one late appearance.  Maybe it’s a respect thing.
  2. Be neat and clean.  I think this one is the product of the time in which Wooden coached.  Though I do hear of some coaches, usually football or men’s basketball, where the coach will have a “no facial hair” or “no long hair” rule.
  3. No profanity.  I can count the number of times I’ve sworn in front of my teams on one hand.  Notice I said “in front of them”, I’m sure I’ve sworn under my breath during many a practice and game!  For our athletes, there’s nothing positive that comes from swearing:  officials don’t appreciate it, opponents think it’s obnoxious, and moms in the stands shouldn’t have to cover their kid’s ears.
  4. Never criticize a teammate.  I know the title of the post is three team rules and this is very obviously number four, but this is how he presented it.  Since he didn’t elaborate on it, I’ll put my spin on it.  Here’s the definition of criticism: the expression of disapproval of someone or something based on perceived faults or mistakes.  Using this definition, which seems to put teammates on two different levels (the teammate who is right or doing things the right way and the teammate who is wrong) and that can never be good for team unity.

So what do you think?  Do these line up with your team rules?

John Wooden’s TEDtalk:  The difference between winning and succeeding

The John Wooden series:

John Wooden TEDtalk
Leading With Integrity
The Pressure Of Winning
When Will You Feel Successful As A Coach?

Conflict Should Not Be Taboo


In a great post, When Ideas Collide, Don’t Duck, a CEO talks about creating an environment where conflict is seen as a good thing.

As I processed what he discussed regarding conflict, I thought about the number of times I’ve heard players on teams I’ve coached tell me that “everyone gets along” and all of players love one another.  That always makes me nervous.

Here are some red flags to look for regarding team conflict

  • They say there’s no conflict.  Really?  No conflict?  I never believe it and I always try to dig deeper.  Now, if a freshman says it, they may be telling the truth because they don’t know any better.  Everyone else?  They’re telling a version of the truth.  There may be no conflict because they are burying, hiding, or otherwise not addressing conflict.  Avoidance has a limited shelf life.
  • Upperclassmen don’t listen to underclassmen.  I’m not saying that all folks on a team should be equal.  I give a leg up to a person who’s been on a team for a while.  All things being equal, I value an upperclassmen’s opinion a bit more than a newbie just because the older player understands our competition level and what it takes to be successful in our league.  That being said, upperclassmen have to create an environment where the young’uns feel they can approach the oldies but goodies.
  • Everyone’s happy with their role.  Again I say, really?  So I’ve got four point guards or three setters or five goalkeepers…and the folks sitting on the bench are happy there?  Either I’ve recruited the wrong folks or these players aren’t being honest.  Teams are by their nature conflicts of interests.  There is internal competition within a collaborative group.  That alone should initiate conflict.

I’ve written a lot about conflict here and hopefully we all know that we can encourage our teams to embrace conflict as a way to get better.  There’s nothing inherently wrong with conflict…it can actually boost our teams up a level.

Clear The Way For Excellence


“It’s not enough to accentuate the positive. You have to eliminate the negative.”
Bad is 5X Stronger Than Good

How is your team doing?  Are you stuck in a rut?  Can’t figure out why you aren’t moving forward?  What if you’ve got negativity going on? What if a select, but powerful, few of your players are sabotaging the success of the group with their Debbie Downer view of the world?

What to do?

Face it head on.

4 things we must eliminate from our teams to experience success

  1. Bad practices.  This was from a business blog, so I don’t think he meant sports practices.  Poor team culture and ineffective norms will hold even the most talented teams back.
  2. Nasty people.  I strongly believe that our role as coaches is to help guide young people as they’re navigating the world of adulthood.  That being said, there have been a couple of times in my career where I’ve waited too long to get rid of the bad apple.  One rotten apple truly can spoil the bushel.
  3. Destructive attitudes.  “Quickly deal with lack of cooperation, rudeness, laziness, or self-serving behaviors. When you see bad, shine a light on it.”  Sometimes we coaches chicken out and take the easy road rather than having that uncomfortable conversation.
  4. Negative beliefs.  Does your team really believe in your vision for the program?  If they don’t, it’s time to figure out how to get them on board or how to replace them.

Negativity breeds negativity.  One player quits, it opens the door for another.  One teammate complains about the coaching, the rest suddenly think the coach is the real problem.

Eliminate the negative attitudes and people and clear the way to success.

Maintaining Close Relationships With Your Team


I used to call this a “stop and chat”, but apparently there’s an actual name for this management technique called Management By Walking Around, or MBWA.

What is it exactly?

  • Stop and talk to players face to face.
  • Get a sense how things are going.
  • Listen to what is on player’s minds.

Why is it successful?

Years ago, I worked with a track coach who said it was his goal to talk to each athlete every day…even if only for a few moments.  Connecting with our athletes is a win-win.  We feel good about where our team’s mindset is and the players feel that we care.

If you do it correctly, you’ve been MBWAing all season, so the team won’t be startled when you stop and chat with them.  This strategy will pay dividends when and if something big happens within the team that you need to get to the bottom of.

How to MBWA with your team

  • Make it part of the routine.  The team should know when they come into the gym that you’re probably going to be talking to them, it shouldn’t be weird or awkward…just part of being on the team.
  • Just you, not the other coaches.  If your whole coaching staff approaches one of your players, I’d imagine they’d start racking their brains, trying to figure out why you were coming toward her with a posse!
  • Chat with everyone.  Seems obvious, but be sure to talk to each person on the team.  Super stud and practice player alike.  That way you can’t be accused of being unfair.  Well, you can, but it won’t be true.
  • Ask for suggestions.  This one is an easy one for a MBWA before a game, because you can always ask for suggestions for places to eat dinner.  It’s super important for them (for some reason) and the team’s gotta eat.
  • Follow up with answers.  If you’re doing a MBWA and one of the athletes asked a question you don’t know the answer to, you’ve got to be sure to get back to him with the answer.
  • Don’t criticize.  There’s plenty of time for that!  Keep it light…this is about relationship building!

If you want to read more about Management By Walking Around, check out this article.  Investing our precious time into our players will reap benefits down the line.

From Apathetic To Peak Performer


I enjoy Twitter.  I like reading great quotations, reading interesting articles, and seeing what people are finding interesting at the moment.  I follow Lolly Daskal and she does these massive tweet chats…so massive that her hashtag (#leadfromwithin) sometimes trends globally.  Daskal is a business consultant focusing on leadership, team performance, and culture change among others.

In one of her tweet chats, she asked her followers what makes peak performers different.  She got lots of responses and these are the five things Daskal says make peak performers stand out.

Peak performers have H.E.A.R.T.

Honor.  Peak performers hold their teammates in high regard.  They are selfless, choosing to let others take credit for successes.

Excellence.  They’re good at what they do.

Authenticity.  The players are less concerned about what they’re “supposed” to do, but stay true to themselves.  Their teammates never feel like they’re putting on a front for the coach and are well-respected by players and coaches alike.

Results.  There should be tangible results if someone is to call themselves a peak performer.  Either wins, faster times, records set…however your sport is measured.

Tenacity.  Success requires a certain determination to push on no matter the circumstances.  It also requires players to hold tight to the goals and dreams for the season.

Odds are, if you’ve got a peak performer or two, the rest of your team is drawn to them…the H.E.A.R.T. will draw them in.

Leading The Resistant Player


I’m sure we’ve all coached a player who has been tough for us.  It can be for many reasons.  It could be because they’re not friendly with their teammates.  It could be because they’re only concerned with how the team can help them. Or it could be because no one has taken the time to point out how their actions impact the team.

I always fall on the side of the last explanation.  I like to think that players aren’t being bad teammates because they’d rather be bad teammates.  I like to think that they don’t understand they’re driving everyone crazy and it’s my job to guide them along the way to being a great teammate.

Don’t know if you’ve got a resistant player?  Check out these scenarios:

Coach: Let’s go over our new offense for the season.
Resistant player: My high school coach ran a different offense and we always won.
Coach: *sigh*

Coach: I need everyone to sign this birthday card for Susie.
Resistant player: Me and Susie don’t get along, do I need to sign?
Coach: *sigh*

Coach: The sky is a beautiful blue today!
Resistant player: Technically the sky isn’t really blue.
Coach: *sigh*

These resistant players not only represent gray hairs on our heads, but also opportunities to mentor a young person.  I like to think of players as flowers.  We don’t know if we’re planting the seeds of teamwork in them (and therefore much less likely to benefit from the beautiful flower in their future) or if we’re weeding an already well-tended garden.  The earlier we are in the process, the more frustrating that player will be.

4-step intervention process for the resistant player

First: talk to them.  It could be that they don’t understand how they’re coming across to teammates and coaches.

Second: take something away from them. If you’ve talked to them (and talked to them), maybe you’ve got to take away playing time or a leadership position to show them you mean business.

Third: empower them to stay or go.  You can present it to them like this: Look.  I know you’re sick of me talking to you about this and, quite frankly, I’m getting tired of saying the same thing.  Do you really want to be on the team?  If they say yes, give them parameters for remaining in good standing with the coaching staff.  If they say no, well, that’s the downside of giving them the choice.

Fourth: don’t let them off the hook.  It’s easy to think that your job is over after step three, but if you don’t stay vigilant, you’ll be back to step one again.

We don’t manage the resistant player with tough love because we like confrontation or being grumpy.  We do it because we believe it’s what’s best for them in the long run.  I’d go as far as saying we’d be hurting their player development if we didn’t stay on them.

8 Qualities Of Great Team Leaders

follow the leadersource

Captains are important and serve a unique function on our teams, so I enjoyed this article from Leadership Freak, The Three Power-People You Need On Your Team.  I don’t want to get into whether you choose captains or you let the team, or whether or not your captains are always seniors, or whether you don’t have captains at all.  I want to focus on what qualities we should look for, and what we should coach the team to look for, in our team leaders.

What we should look for in team leaders:

  • Hard working. I don’t know about you, but my best captains have been the hardest workers.  When they asked the team to run through a wall, their teammates knew the captain would be right there with them…leading the way.
  • Strong opinions and emotions. They should be passionate about the sport, about the team, and about their teammates.  Ideally they’re able to harness that emotion into motivating their teammates.
  • Unflinching alignment with organizational values.  What is it you value as a coach?  Does your team know?  Do your team leaders/captains?  Is it being on time?  Is it extra film study?  Is it supporting teammates who play a second sport?  Whatever it is, make sure you make it known.
  • Comfort saying no. Good manners are nice but not essential.  I had a young lady who was a natural born leader.  She was strong and she spoke her mind.  One preseason, she came in and it was like a quiet, mousy alien had abducted her.  She was worried that she was too strong and was scaring the team.  I did my best to tell her the qualities she was trying to hide were her best qualities.  And not only that, they were assets our team was in dire need of.
  • Dedication to serve the organization before serving themselves.  There’s that servant leader concept.  Team before self.  The teams I’ve had who have suffered through lack of success were always lacking that team-first leader.
  • Strength to confront brutal facts.  What if your star player is out all night long making a fool of herself (however you deem it) before a big game?  Will your team leaders address it?  My best leaders squash problems before I even realize it’s going on.
  • Openness to change.  Let’s say you’ve got a team captain.  She’s pretty good, but you see with a couple of tweaks in her personality or how she communicates with the team, she could be amazing.  Hopefully, she’s open to getting better…not just on the court, but off of it as well.
  • Loyalty.  To the program, of course, but more importantly, to their best selves.  That may come across as kind of cheesy, but sometimes our team leaders are put in tough positions where they’ve got to make a decision that may be unpopular.  I’d hope they believe in the type of leader they are and can stand by it.

Once we’ve found these folks and they’ve been identified as team leaders, it’s our job to train them to lead.  So often we assume our players know how to lead, but they only know what they’ve been exposed to.  What if you showed them leadership videos on Ted or youtube?  What if you read them great leadership quotes and asked them what they meant to each one of them?  What if you picked a leadership book and read it with them?

Training our leaders may be just as important as training our sport skills.

Teams Need Conflict To Function Effectively


It’s no secret that I don’t believe in “girl drama”.  I always put that phrase in quotations because I know that folks understand what I mean when I say it, but I still want them to know I think it’s a myth.  In my opinion, “girl drama” happens when conflict management goes awry.

This Harvard Business Review article, Conflict Strategies for Nice People, talks about why conflict has a place on teams.  I’d go a step further and say it’s imperative for women’s teams to understand and embrace conflict.  “Girl drama” isn’t the absence of conflict, but rather the absence of communication about the conflict.

The cost of avoiding conflict

  1. You don’t get your alternative perspective on the table.
  2. You can’t challenge faulty assumptions.
  3. You don’t have the chance to highlight hidden risks.

Why conflict is good

  1. It allows the team to address difficult situations.  Teams are wrought with difficult situations.  A teammate could be slacking off in the weight room.  Texting through a video session.  Or just not working hard in practice.  While I would certainly intervene, I’d hope my team leaders would feel comfortable interjecting themselves into the narrative.
  2. It creates a space to synthesize diverse perspectives.  Years ago, I had a team with very different ideas about the way the team should conduct themselves after games, especially after losses.  One camp was the “hush your mouth and don’t say anything to me” group, while the other was the “that game is over so no need to be down-faced about it”.  They were able to come together and find a happy medium that worked for everyone.
  3. It pushes the team to make sure solutions are well thought out.  Not communicating is easy, because it doesn’t involve compromise.  Once we start talking and hearing diverse opinions, coming to a thoughtful resolution is harder, but will have more buy-in since there was compromise and communication.
  4. It is the source of true innovation.  Sometimes the way we’ve always done things needs to change.  Just because we’ve always done it doesn’t mean it’s best, right, or effective.
  5. It is a critical process in identifying and alleviating risks.  Conflict puts us into a space where we’re hearing differing opinions.  Those different opinions give us, as coaches, a more nuanced view of our team. We should embrace a little conflict among our staff to make sure we’re making the best choices for the benefit of our teams.  Our coaches have to feel free to challenge us on our decisions or what’s the point of having them there?

Commit to conflict

So we all agree that conflict is good, right?  Don’t go away just yet!  Now you’ve got to teach your players effective conflict resolution strategies or you’ll have a bunch of feuding cliques on your team.  Check out this post, Feeling Comfortable With Conflict, for some ideas.

10 Essential Characteristics Of Winners


“I want winners!” –Mike Singletary, former Head Football Coach, San Francisco 49ers

Recruiting is any team’s lifeblood.  You need new people for different ways of looking at things, different skill sets, and to take your team to the next level.  Beyond the measurables, what makes one player a winner and another fall short?  If I knew the definitive answer to that one, I could retire in the south of France!  I’m sure most coaches and leaders believe that there’s more than just skill that contribute to making someone a winner.  Let’s use the book Values Of The Game by Bill Bradley to help shed some light on the intangibles that separate those who are just highly skilled from those who carry the qualities of a winner.

1.       Passion: A winner loves to play and they have fun playing, they’re what some coaches call gym rats.  No one to play with?  They’ll play alone…the opportunity of playing the sport brings them joy.

2.       Discipline: Winners follow the game plan.  Think about the running back that has to patiently wait for the offensive line to open up a hole…that’s discipline.  Winners understand that they need to not only discipline their bodies through practice, they also know that their minds need to be reined in through that same practice.

3.       Selflessness: Winners know their role on the team and are inwardly and outwardly happy with it.  You won’t find them grumbling in the background or trying to get others to be disgruntled with them, they put the team first.  If you’ve got a team full of folks willing to sacrifice personal glory for the good of the team, then you’re well on your way to a close-knit team and a team of winners.

4.       Respect: Winners respect their coaches, their teammates, the department’s support staff, the officials.  Beyond that, winners are students of the game.  They love watching video, studying up on the next opponent, and working on any weaknesses within their own game.

5.       Perspective: Winners know two very important things.  They know that they need to practice…no matter how good they are and they know that they need their teammates…no matter how good they are.

6.       Courage: Winners have the courage to give 100% for their team, to risk failing or falling short.  They courageously play through the times when their game is “off”, because they know that the team is counting on them.  Winners are willing to take chances.

7.       Leadership: A winner knows that it’s their job to get their teammates to truly believe in their team goals.  Beyond that, they’re usually your most prepared players…for preseason, for practices, and for games.  Finally, and most importantly, winners are respected by their teammates…after all, can you really be a leader if no one follows?

8.       Responsibility: Winners know that they owe it to their team to complete their off-season workouts, to follow the rules, and to be a friend…not just a teammate.  They also understand that it’s their responsibility to stay mentally and physically focused at practice.

9.       Resilience: Defeat, bad games…winners know how to let those go.  As a matter of fact, the game right after their disappointing performance is likely to be one of their best.  Winners know how to bounce back.

10.   Imagination: Winners are winners in their minds way before they win on the court.  They visualize their success and then go about the hard work of making it happen.  Winners imagine themselves as great.

There you go coaches…now go out and find some winners!  (Click here if you want to recognize a loser when you see one!)

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