The first thing you need to do when you are building a program philosophy and team culture is to create a clear mission statement. When building your team’s / program’s culture it’s important that all coaches are models of that philosophy and culture. If you want the kids to buy-in the coaches have to lead by example. Building a team culture doesn’t happen in one day. You have to stick to your values and philosophy every single day- it takes time, but if your coaches and program’s leadership are consistent the kids will buy-in. This doesn’t have to apply just to an entire program, it can apply to the age level / team you are coaching.
Building a program philosophy and team culture starts with commitment. All coaches, parents, and players need to buy-in. There needs to be complete commitment with every player, coach, and parent. However, most of all, every single coach needs to buy into your team philosophy. It starts at the top with the head coach and drips down to all the assistant coaches. If you do not practice what you preach, your players will notice and you will come off as fake. The parents and coaches are the beacons of your program. It’s important that as a coach you have a great relationship with your parents. I recommend having a parent & coaches meeting and talk about the culture and team philosophy you envision. Also, surround yourself with people that are committed. If a coach isn’t on board, get him or her on board, or get him or her out!
Always maintain and preserve integrity in your program. Always play and coach within the rules and confines of the game. Integrity, when instilled in young kids, will turn them into leaders. It’s important that coaches above all, have the well-being of their players in their heart. If the parents and players know that you care, they will be much easier to deal with and they will respect and support you. Integrity, starts from the top- the head coach most be the model of integrity. It’s important that all coaches be professional in everything they do. Again, be the model of integrity, be the example of how a professional should be. Always do the right thing- reward players for hard work and give playing time to those kids that deserve it. Always reward commitment and work ethic. Win with class and lose with class- don’t be a bad winner or a soar loser, it’s a poor reflection of your character.
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The players and coaches most understand that the team comes first. You do not want unselfishness within the team. The mission is a team mission, you win and lose as a team. It’s important that coaches preach team first every single practice. Team activities and outings are always a great way for everyone on your team to bond and build team chemistry. It’s also a great way to get to know the parents- develop that trust. It is important that all coaches hold not only their players accountable, but their coaches and even parents accountable. We’re all making sacrifices and have life outside of football, so parents need to understand that and get their players to practice! Reward unselfish players and reward those players who’s parents are going above and beyond to get their kids to practice.
Place a high value on discipline in your program. Doing the little things right makes the difference between success and failure. We are always working to develop discipline and demand it in our program. Football is a competitive sport, your kids must maintain their composure, be coachable, and do the little things consistently during preparation to ensure they are ready to play and help their TEAM win. Again, discipline starts from the top- coaches lead by example.
Kids respond very well to enthusiasm and intensity. Don’t be one of those low-energy lame coaches, the kids do not respond to ‘lame’. If they see that their coaches are enthusiastic every single practice they will be enthusiastic every single practice. A coach’s behavior will rub off on their players. Come to practice and the game with a positive attitude and show that you want to be there. Remember, enthusiasm is highly contagious and powerful. It will spread from coach to coach, from player to player, and to players and coaches to parents. Football is an intense game, played by intense players, coach it the same way!
It’s important that coaches are honest with other coaches, players, and parents. Be authentic, don’t lie or avoid anything. Believe it or not, players, coaches, and even some parents will appropriate your honesty. Be honest with your players, tell them what they need to work on and help them work on those things. Be honest with yourself, and be receptive to constructive criticism. Many times you see coaches make excuses, but if you are honest with yourself, you will improve as a coach and a person. If something isn’t working, or you made a mistake, own it and move forward. Again, it’s about being real, players, other coaches, and parents respect realness much more than fakers. Honesty in communication builds trust with players and it let’s them know you care and want them to be successful.
Fundamentals Above All
It all starts with the fundamentals. You will win and lose based on bad play and mistakes. If you can be fundamentally sound, you will always have a chance to win. I know there are instances where you can be fundamentally sound, but if the team you are playing is physically superior, it will be tough to win. However, if you are fundamentally sound and well-coached, everyone will recognize that. The game of football is won with solid blocking and tackling, it’s really not a big secret. Consistently work the fundamentals of football and you will play better football and help develop these kids into better football players as they grow older and move onto higher levels of football. It’s our job as coaches to develop the love for football and to develop the fundamentals of football from a young age.
Your players should be better on and off of the field when they leave your program. For me, I want my players to leave us better people and players than when they arrived. I have a saying- Youth Football is Training for Life. Your program should be focused on developing these kids on the field, in the classroom, and in the community. It’s important to teach them the fundamentals of life and football. Players that have a good attitude and strong work ethic will succeed, and those that do not won’t succeed. It’s that simple.
Building a program philosophy and team culture successfully starts with attitude. Attitudes are contagious. Always be positive. Always thrive to win. Always maintain composure in difficult situations. People respond much better to encouragement than they do to negativity. I understand that there are some kids that you need to coach with ‘tough love’. However, most kids need to be encouraged. No one wants to be around a person that is negative all the time. It creates a bad vibe and a negative feel around the team. You don’t need it and you don’t want that negative energy around your team.
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The number one goal, from a playing football standpoint is to win. Kids don’t sign up to play football to get beat every single game. The goal every game is to win the game. Winning on game day is determined by talent in some cases, absolutely, but many outcomes stem from the preparation or lack of preparation. Everything we do during the practice week has an element of competition. Whether it’s a tackling drill, or conditioning (we record and try to beat times from the previous day), we compete. I go into every practice with the mindset that we are going to win the day, by getting better each practice. I head into the every game believing that we will win because I know we worked hard all week leading up to the game. Do nothing to lose and it will rub off on your players. Above all, demand effort. Sometimes you just lose to a better team, but if your team gave great effort and competed that is winning in my mind. There is always a team somewhere better than you- remember it isn’t so much about the actual win, but it’s about giving the effort to win every single time. If your players give great effort towards trying to win, they will win at things more times than they lose- especially in life. We all know life is difficult and you have to work hard and compete for everything. So it’s our job to create and develop competitiveness in all our players.
Here’s one of my favorite quotes. This guy was a crazy coach, but this is dead on!
The key is not the will to win. Everybody has that. It is the will to prepare to win that is important. – Bobby Knight
Building a program philosophy and team culture is not easy. It takes time and commitment. Remember, it is all about teaching the fundamentals, life lessons, and the passion and love for the sport. If you do all these things your program will be successful and you will retain your players. They won’t leave because of “bad coaching”.