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7 Steps to Building a Team-First Culture
November 14, 2013    4256 Views
TJ Buchanan
7 Steps to Building a Team
Many coaches spend time in the offseason learning new plays and drills or beginning to strategize what offense or defense they want to run with their teams. An equally important area that is often overlooked is building the team’s culture.
I recently read “The Rowers Code,” a book geared more toward building a successful corporation than an athletic team, but there were valuable lessons that can apply to what coaches do on the field. The author, Marilyn Krichko, uses examples from a team-building activity that incorporates the skills necessary to build a successful rowing team as a platform for building a successful business.
There are seven principles that rowers must adhere to in order to keep their boat moving forward:
  1. Always Do What’s Best for the Team (Commitment)
    Sometimes, putting the team first can be a challenge for players. Here’s an example: The only goalie on the roster cannot play in the game tomorrow. The only other players with goaltending experience are your match-up defender and your leading scorer. Ideally, both players would demonstrate their commitment to the team by volunteering their services. They could each play a half of the game or you could use the player at the position with the most subs.
  2. Give Every Seat Equal Value (Acknowledgement)
    The idea that every player has an important role is not only crucial to acknowledge but also to believe wholeheartedly. Just because one player scored a goal does not mean the goalie’s stop, the offensive transition and the motion offense leading up to that shot wasn’t just as important.
  3. Carry Your Load (Accountability)
    Not everyone can lead the team in groundballs or goals. Every player should put forth their best effort to perform assigned tasks to the best of their ability, and as a coach, you are responsible for providing positive reinforcement. Hold your players accountable for giving 100 percent effort, knowing that in life, success demands effort and time.
  4. Balance the Boat (Self-Awareness)
    You constantly have to call one of your attack players back from the defensive end to let one of your defensive midfielders in on the action. You might explain to the player that while you appreciate their effort to get back on defense, they should allow one of the midfielders to go over the restraining line if the option is available. While the attacker has good intentions and has the opportunity to get more reps in at practice, during the game, the player should be self-aware and accept their role by letting the teammate with more defensive experience go back on defense.
  5. Stay in Sync (Situational Awareness)
    Self-awareness is needed to “Balance the Boat,” and situational awareness is needed to “Stay in Sync.” If you’re down by a goal and call one last play, everyone needs to run that play and stick to the game plan in order to have a chance for the tying goal.
  6. Lead by Example (Trust)
    Whether you’re the coach, the best player on the team or the player who works the hardest at practice, keep in the back of the of your mind that someone is always watching. He or she may well be an impressionable person who will inevitably will pick up on your habits, whether good or bad.
  7. Keep Everything in the Boat (Ownership)
    Finally, everyone will make mistakes at one point or another, and everyone should own and work to improve on their shortcomings. This doesn’t mean you should dwell on mistakes, but rather to own them, improve on them and move on. No one is perfect!
Coaching is every bit as much about psychology and motivation as it is about athletic performance. Spending time to develop a team-first culture can pay off two-fold when it comes time to perform on the field. When all of your athletes are in a team-first mind set, the team is greater than the sum of its parts.
What could your team do if everyone was rowing together? How have you seen these concepts at work within your team?
TJ Buchanan is the coaching education content manager at US Lacrosse. Suggest topics for future coaching blog posts in the comments section.