Culture – The Difference Maker

I have been fascinated all my life with why some teams win and some teams lose. As a young athlete and I coach I sensed it but I did not really know what it was. After about ten years of coaching it was quite apparent it was culture. Culture is in some ways abstract and somewhat intangible. You know good culture when you see it and conversely you know bad culture when you see it. In my experience great coaches create great cultures. It is a level of expectation, a feeling that what you are doing will produce positive results. Culture is more than the domain of the coaches though. It starts with the receptionist that answers the phone, the equipment person, and the grounds keeper. They all have a hand in creating a culture of excellence. Everyone has pride in what they do and feels they are part of the success of the team on the field. It is not about facilities, it is all about people. It is how you conduct yourself as a coach and how you treat everyone you come in contact with. When you put on the uniform you feel special. I saw it in 1989 when the NY Yankees Rookie team shared our complex when I was with the White Sox. It was the way they wore their uniform, the way they acted, the persona of the coaches. They exuded excellence, because nothing else was expected. I saw it at Adams Sate when I visited Joe Vigil there in the summer of 1982. It was quickly very clear why they dominated cross-country at the time. Dr Vigil set the tone, but it was more. I saw it with North Carolina Womens soccer when I first got to work with them. I saw it with Kenyon College swimming. There was something special there. I saw it last fall when I visited Jim Radcliffe at University of Oregon. Watching football practices and a game it was clear what the culture was. It was more than the signs on the walls; it was the attitude, the people. Outside of sport Starbucks has it. They have it because they work at it, just like any great team. It does not just happen.

Changing culture is tough. To change culture more often than not means changing personnel, getting rid of energy vampires that suck the air out of the room with their negativity. Sometime it means getting rid of athletes; sometimes it means losing some games to make a point. At the end of the day culture counts and what you do as coach minute by minute and day by day counts the most. It is elevating the mundane, the daily routine to make it matter.

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