Tag Archives: Team culture

3 Lessons Your Team Can Learn From The Movie Hoosiers


In Effective Use of Films For Goal Setting, I talked about the movie Hoosiers and how it can be used to challenge your team to blow past preconceived notions of how good they can be.  I haven’t used the movie as a rah-rah “let’s beat the dominant team” motivator, because I don’t want them to be that fired up about one team.  I talked about it in the post linked above…you should check it out.  It’s such a good movie that I’ve come up with more topics that you can use with your team during the season. Here are three ways that you can discuss Hoosiers if you decide to watch it with your team.

3 amazing lessons from Hoosiers

It takes teamwork to make the dream work
Ideally, your team is highly motivated and focused on what they want to accomplish personally as well as corporately.  It’s our jobs as their coach to push them along the way…reminding them that accomplishing goals and dreams shouldn’t be easy.  It will require hard work and perseverance.  Most times, the dreams that keep your team up at night will be bigger than their britches…accomplished only through the power of the group.  After all, is it really a dream if you can do it all by yourself?

You gotta play the game
To me, this is the major lesson of this movie.  You’ve got to lace up the shoes and give yourself a shot.  If you learn anything from Hoosiers, it’s got to be: the court is the same size, the hoop is the same height, and the rules are the same for both teams.  Sure, one team is favored over the other…but nothing matters until you play the game.  If your team can get to a place where they believe they have a chance to win (even when no one else shares that belief), then guess what?  They’ve got a chance to win!

Sometimes things work out just how you want them to
Every now and then, you’ll have a magical season.  Your seniors will step up, your freshmen will play over their heads…all culminating with winning the big game.  Sometimes it’s nice to let your team open up their brains to feeling good about the team and the season…to the possibility of everything working out.  It may not, but I think it’s more likely to happen if they’ve got a vision of what it’d look and feel like in their heads and hearts.

This is a great movie to get your team fired up about working hard.  Hoosiers is exciting, dramatic, and emotional…sounds a lot like the sports season, right?

Is Your Best Athlete Your Best Leader?


When your best players are your hardest workers, you have the chance to be very good.
—Tara VanDerveer

When your best players aren’t vocal leaders.  This is a common problem.  I don’t know how many times I’ve commiserated with another coach about a player who has out-of-this-world talent, but won’t speak up in practice or games.  I’ve tried telling the player that the team needs them to speak up, I’ve tried explaining that the burden of being the best is that their teammates look up to them, I’ve tried it all.  Usually it doesn’t work.  If that person gets picked as a captain (which they usually do), I try to pair them up with someone who will actually talk.

When your best players undermine you.  This one is rare…but it happens.  Your best player smiles in your face, “yes, Coach” and all that, but is tearing you down behind your back.  I’m not talking about the regular, “It sucks that Coach made us run today, that’s crap!”, all players say things like that.  I’m talking about the player who questions your coaching technique, coaching moves, or coaching decisions.  As annoying as it is for players to come to us with questions about those things, it’s catastrophic when they do all of those things in secret.  Even worse, we usually don’t find out about it until it’s too late.

When your best players are lazy.  This is the rarest of them all.  Can they really be your best player if they’re lazy?  Semantics.  Your best player (stats leader in important categories) doesn’t go hard in practice or games, but still manages to be better than her teammates.  You can try to guilt them into working harder by telling them their teammates look up to them.  You can try to force her into exertion through physical punishment, but if they’ve gotten this far by being lazy…they can trick you into thinking they’re working hard.  No matter what your captain policy is (you pick, the team picks, combo), this person most definitely can’t have a leadership position on your team.

When your best players are your hardest workers.  Heaven has opened up and shined on you and your team.  Effort is catchy.  Hard work is catchy.  Desire is catchy.  Belief is catchy.  These players, these high energy/hard working types, infect the rest of the team with their energy.  Their teammates may walk into the gym after a tough day of class wanting to slack off, but this player just won’t allow it.  The team may be losing late in the game, but this player won’t let their teammates stop believing.  These players earn their teammates’ respect by the way they carry themselves each and every day.

Your best players are leaders, no matter what.  They may lead negatively or they may lead positively…but they are ALWAYS leading.  Be sure to have high-quality players in leadership positions on your team.

2 Tips To Break Big Goals Into Smaller Milestones


“One of the difficulties with achieving great things is knowing how to get there.”– To Achieve a Major Goal, First Tackle a Few Small Ones

By the time our seasons roll around, we need to have our vision for the season cemented.  Teams that make it to NCAA’s, or have All-American players, or other team accolades can probably work backwards (Weeks? Months? Years?) to a point where an intentional action toward a goal started.

The author of the article linked above says there are two critical things necessary to achieve a big goal:

  1. It is hard to envision the specific tasks that actually need to get done to achieve a big goal. I think this is critical as we think about our athletes.  They want to win conference and everyone’s fired up about it when you have a team meeting to talk about goals.  We’ve got to help them hammer down to smaller, measurable milestones.  In our conference championship scenario, a few smaller goals could be: 100% completion of the team’s off-season workouts, commitment to team-building activities, no missed classes during the season, come in early/stay late 3x/week.
  2. For very large tasks you often do not get feedback on your success until many of the pieces of that project are in place. The ironic life of coaching says that we may not know if our team has fully bought in to what we’re selling until we’re in the middle of the season.  It’s critical that coaches identify a clear communication strategy to make sure that every player knows what we value and what we expect about and from our team.  It’s also imperative that we continue to bring the big goal back as a focal point for the team.  We can’t just bring it up at the beginning of the season and think we’re good.

Equipping our teams with the tools to achieve goals will help our seasons be more competitive and more successful.

Creating Brave Players

“Fear is the reason today is like yesterday.”—Leadership Freak

That quotation sucker punched me!  Our goal as coaches is to create an atmosphere where our athletes feel comfortable taking risks and are brave in the face of fear.  Those who aren’t involved in athletics may scoff, but the fear is real when the bases are loaded and coach doesn’t have another pitcher warming up.  The fear is real when it’s game point and the server is walking back to the endline in volleyball.  And the fear is real when the fourth runner in a relay receives the baton at the same time as an opponent.

Here are three things we can do right now to crush fear on our teams:

  1. Stop saying crunch time is the same as the beginning of a competition. One of the reasons we believe certain players are “clutch” is that they execute late in the game, in pressure filled situations.  Yet we, as coaches, continue to say things like: the scoreboard doesn’t matter.  Yet…it does! Our players are watching time tick away and their heartrates are increasing.  Our players are watching the opponent create a bigger and bigger gap in the score…and it’s starting to feel like the game is getting away from them.  I think it’s better to acknowledge that pressure and not be afraid of it, but welcome it and give your athletes tools to handle what the scoreboard is saying to them.
  2. Celebrate effort. Each day we have an opportunity to fill our athlete’s reserves with success.  I know Yoda says, “do or do not, there is no try”, but I believe in applauding the process, not necessarily the result.  So if a player hustles to close a block or dig a ball—even if they aren’t successful in their attempt—I’m going to get fired up about the effort.  It’s risky to go all out (what if they fail?), so we need to cheer those players who are willing to flop…because they believe they’ll eventually succeed.
  3. Be intentional about making our yesterdays. Today is tomorrow’s yesterday.  What are you going to do today to put your athletes in a position to draw on their bravery reserves?  Decide what your focus of the day/week/month is going to be and make it happen!  If your focus is tangible (we need to convert more turnovers into points), then devote the majority of practice time to it.  If your focus is intangible (your team needs to be teamier), then design drills that bring that skill to the forefront.

I can’t think of a sport that doesn’t require its athletes to be willing to take risks. Those risks could be failing in front of their friends and family, it could be letting their teammates down…but it could also be succeeding when they weren’t entirely confident they would.  There’s a saying that says, “fortune favors the brave”.  Sure, our athletes could fail, but they certainly won’t succeed if they’re unwilling to be brave and take a risk.

Coach Dawn Writes is back writing helpful articles.  Did you know that you could get the articles emailed directly to your inbox?  Well, it’s free and easy.  Just click here and you’re all set!

Culture Change: Evolution or Revolution?

Evolution not Revolutionsource

A coworker of mine let me know about The Corner Office, which is a management/leadership section within the New York Times magazine.  It has lots of interviews of hot shot management types that are very interesting and, I think, applicable to the coaching profession.

Changing a team culture needs to happen when you take over a new team, when your team is stuck in a negative rut, and sometimes when a new and dominant set of leaders take over.  How should you go about it?

A model for changing a team culture:

  1. Evaluate the team.  Sit down with your assistants and go through your team, player by player.  What positives do they bring to the team?  Negatives?  Do you have the players you need to win?
  2. Figure out what needs to be changed.  Do you have good team leaders?  It’s easy to dust off old practices each year, but maybe you need to get to some clinics to learn some new ways to teach your old tricks.
  3. Figure out what doesn’t need to be changed.  Similar to #2.


  1. Evolution.  Slow, steady change.  Probably best for a team you’re currently coaching.
  2. Revolution. Fast, radical change.   Probably best for taking over a new team.

Action plan:

  1. Set the strategy.  Where will you start first?  Staff improvements? Recruiting?  Increasing the skill base of your current players?
  2. Come up with a structure/plan.  Implementing the strategy.
  3. Identify the right players.  We can’t anything without our players.  Make sure you’ve got the right team leaders in place, the right players in the right positions, and the right recruits in the pipeline.

So that’s the coach version of the business turnaround plan from The Corner Office.