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Creating a Team Culture for Success

By Hal Tearse, former Minnesota Hockey Coach-in-Chief, 09/08/14, 4:30PM CDT

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There are many ways to discuss and explain team culture. If you Google the term, you will get 42 million hits. Team culture applies to sports, business or any group that has a common goal and purpose. We all know situations where the culture was bad and everybody was interested in “me rather than we”. As coaches and parents, you are responsible for your team culture whether it is good or bad.

A simple definition of team culture is: “How We Do Things Here”. That pretty much sums it up. Now, let’s break it down further so we can see what it means and figure out how to create a culture of success.

Team culture comes from your values and your non-negotiable beliefs. Your team is a direct reflection of you and your values. It is reflected in what you teach your players either directly or indirectly. It is how coaches act on the bench during games, how parents behave in the stands and how you relate to your players on- and off-the-ice.

It all starts with your values. What are your primary pillars or foundation that you build your philosophy around? I will share some thoughts with you for your consideration.

Youth hockey is about trying to win and teaching kids life lessons. They both are important. What is critical here is how you go about trying to win. Each player deserves to be respected as an individual and given the opportunity to perform, play and enjoy the sport. As a youth coach or parent, you might want to consider what is best for the long term development of the players rather than the short term objectives of playing more games or winning a couple of invitational tournaments with a short bench.

To achieve a great team culture will take some work. The biggest challenge of creating a successful culture is developing a philosophy that all of the team's parents and coaches believe in and will adhere to. If you can get everyone to agree on a set of beliefs and values, you will set the table for the rest of the season and will be ready to begin integrating that philosophy into your everyday activities.

Below is an example of what creating a culture from scratch would look like. Keep in mind some youth hockey associations have already completed steps one and two for you.

Step one is to write down your beliefs and values:

  • I believe that all players deserve an equal opportunity to play hockey.
  • I believe that youth sports teach valuable life lessons.
  • I believe in a 3:1 practice-to-game ratio in order to maximize player development.
  • I believe that the players need to have fun playing hockey.
  • I believe… (add your own).

Step two is to articulate these beliefs:

  • All players will get equal ice time over the course of the season.
  • All players are expected to give 100% effort at all times.
  • Players are expected to be positive towards teammates.
  • We expect the team to display great sportsmanship while winning and losing.

Step three is to communicate your values and expectations every day in order to engrain them in the team. Some ideas for coaches to use include:

  • Consider using a short meaningful phrase or words during practice that will remind players each day of something special about the team.
  • Develop team rituals before games or practices that help them identify with each other as a group.
  • Provide frequent communication with team parents to keep everybody on the same track and head off problems.
  • Be careful that you do not make a rule you cannot or will not enforce.

Step four involves talking to your team about topics that reflect your values when certain situations arise.

  • Almost every shift provides a learning opportunity on topics such as hard work, recovering from mistakes and supporting teammates.
  • You can address issues that arise from opponents' behavior such as those surrounding excessive celebrations.
  • The car ride home often provides an opportunity for parents to notice which values need to be reinforced.
  • Email is a great tool to communicate and share articles with other team parents.
  • Every day there are things you can spot that help kids teach life lessons.  Look for them.

Team culture is more important to a positive and rewarding season than team systems, conditioning drills and player substitutions during games. The culture you bring to the team will guide the players throughout the season and beyond. Be thoughtful, consistent and proactive about the culture on your team. A great team culture will ensure a successful season for players, parents and coaches.

See you around the rink….

Editor's Note:  This article has been modified from its original version.  To view the original article that was published in the September 2008 issue of our coaching newsletter, click here.

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