Top teams have a strong culture which is nurtured by coaches and team officials.
It could be described as a "How we do business, here" attitude, one deeply rooted in the leaders' values and beliefs about what is important to run a successful youth sports program.
A program's values and beliefs are on display every day in the form of team communications, attention to detail, group dynamics, and the decisions that the coaches make.
From my experience as a hockey coach, I know that coaches who put the players first, whether it be at the youth, high school or college level, will make a lasting impression on their players. If hockey (e.g. winning) comes first, the coaches are missing the opportunity to help players become more than the players ever dreamed of becoming - on and off the ice.
Attention to details, no matter how small, are all part of a program's culture. In fact, it is the small things that add up to the big things and contribute to the culture and ultimate level of success relative to the team's "talent." A lack of attention to detail, and the team will underachieve and fall short of its potential. By paying attention to detail, the team will exceed expectations and overachieve. It should be the goal of every coach to fall into the overachieve category.
Here are some examples of small details which speak volumes about a team's culture, values and beliefs:
- Keeping locker rooms and individual lockers clean: Not only do clean facilities reduce the risk of injury (e.g. MRSA), but by leaving a visiting or shared locker room cleaner than when the team found it, your team sends a message that the players respects their opponents and others who use the lockers.
- Maintaining consistent appearance: When all players wearing the same brands of equipment, and arrive at the arena wearing the team logo, it shows they take pride in being members of the team.
- Staying on the bench between shifts: Players who sit on the bench during games while waiting for their shifts, and pay attention to the play on the ice, show they care about their teammates and the team's performance.
- Geuine handshakes after games: Honest and sincere handshakes with opponents after games, win or lose, reflect true sportsmanship;
- No complaining: No whining or complaining to referees, coaches or teammates.
- Being on time: Players assume responsibility for being on time at all team functions and to participate to the fullest.
- Demonstrating leadership. Top players are held to a high standard of work ethic and leadership.
- Following the rules: All players adhere to team rules. No exceptions, or special treatment for star players.
The head coach is responsible for making sure the culture on the team is designed to insure the team and individual players have a positive experience. Assistant coaches must be part of the process and each day make sure the culture is intact and continues to develop.
Coaches are leaders. Leadership matters.
Hal Tearse is a longtime hockey coach and hockey safety advocate, and Former Coach-in-Chief & Safety Director of Minnesota Hockey.