6 CRUCIAL Steps to Success in Taking Over a Program

Bo Hanson
4x Olympian, Director, and Lead Consultant

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The How-To Coach’s Guide for a Successful 1st Year

Congratulations! You’ve just been recruited as the new Head Coach. Whatever circumstances led to your appointment, the fact remains; you need to turn this team around – fast. You’ve got to get important elements of the team on side and develop what’s left of the team culture into a culture that you want. A culture that develops growth and delivers performance. There are six non-negotiable elements to success in this situation. Six steps that you need to get right; make sure last season is a memory, find out what needs to be done better – what was done well, understand your people, build relationships, gain engagement and get started on YOUR season so you can implement your formula for success.

For most Coaches, you won’t have the luxury of time, or new recruits in the first year. You will have to work with what you’ve got and create winning results straight away. Or the reality is that you too will be replaced.

So how do you do it?

Athlete Assessments’ Bo Hanson shares the processes, steps and strategies you can take to fast track your rebuild and start winning straight away.

#1 Talk to ‘Your Team’

This is a good place to start. ‘Your Team’ in this instance are definitely players and athletes, other coaching staff, administration and management, key allied health supports (e.g. trainers), academic advisors and, if you are game, the parents.

When we’ve had an unsuccessful season(s), there’s a cloud of negativity that looms over the program. As the new Head Coach, you need to create closure on what’s happened in the past season. You want to find out what the positive aspects were so you can carry them forward, and start identifying the changes you can make to improve future performances.

To get this step done, we suggest meeting with all staff and athletes to get their perspectives on the program, both positive and negative. Quite often these people have the answers, they just might not have the position or knowledge to make changes. Either way, you have to include and engage them in the change process. This process creates shared ownership and a sense of moving forward together.

#2 Create Closure on the Previous Year

Once you’ve held your discussions and listened astutely to everyone’s perspective, the next step is closure. Closure ends the ‘old program’, says goodbye, and allows you to implement new ways and new ideas. It’s important to ‘symbolize’ this closure. A symbol is something touchable, feel-able and/or see-able which represents the old program. By removing this symbol people know that change is taking place and can mentally become ready to accept new ideas. Removing old symbols allows us to usher in new symbols. Examples might include changing the team logo or getting new uniforms. Whatever new symbols you create and old ones you dispose of, don’t forget that this is just a process to get everyone committed to the future. You can even physically involve your team in removing old symbols as this reinforces their sense of closure.

#3 Rebuilding Relationships – CRITICAL

Strong relationships are the basis of extraordinary results. When you have productive relationships with your whole team, you can rely on them to perform their roles. You need strong bonds with the people that matter. You can begin to build these relationships by involving everyone in steps one and two.

Get to know your people quickly and form quality relationships (which is where we use our AthleteDISC, CoachDISC and Sports ManagerDISC Profiles). Be open about your philosophy and how you see these people involved in the program going forward. Be aware that at this stage you should be filtering for difference and where it exists on a philosophical or values basis, know that there could be future issues or conflict.

#4 Know Your Success Model

By now, you should know what your success model looks like. What is your system for creating a winning program? After conducting the above discussions, map out what you’ve learnt and apply it to your success model. Pinpoint areas for improvement and development. Look for missing “pieces of the puzzle”. When you start implementing changes, go for easy wins and focus on areas where you can create change with the least amount of resistance and in the fastest way possible.

#5 Assess Willingness to Change in Your


When you’re talking to people try to get a feel for who is willing to change and who is showing resistance. Look and listen for signals of enthusiasm and desire to improve. You might need to make some tough decisions here if certain people do not want to change. If people within your program are at a high level of resistance to change, I encourage you to look at the Change Model. You will need to decide if you can minimize the resistance and maximize the desire or if not, they might need to be removed from the program.

#6 Start to Make Changes

At this stage you’re ready to begin new ways of doing things. New ways that are based on your needs analysis mapped against your success model. Find the most willing and credible participants involved with your program to help guide these changes and take some ownership over them. From here, you should continuously monitor progress and refine strategies as needed. Review them often and remember to check in with your team so you can be ready to make any adjustments. 

Team Culture Development

Now you have the process, here’s a look at the tools you can use to implement these steps effectively. We use the GRIP Model to ensure team members are heading in the same direction and avoid any potential misalignment. The GRIP Model contains the critical elements which contribute to effective, high-performance teams. Each element is necessary and studies into effective teamwork have concluded that when teams under-perform, at least one of these elements is missing. Let’s talk about each of the elements that make up the GRIP Model.

Get a GRIP

GRIP stands for Goals, Roles, Interpersonal relationships, and Procedures and Processes. The GRIP Model contains the critical elements that contribute to effective, high-performance teams. GRIP’s a performance tool any team can use to improve their effectiveness and promote their development.


Setting goals involves more than just committing to a common outcome. To reach a shared goal, the team must commit to standards of behavior which lead to that goal.


Roles in a team encompass more than simply a position on the field or court. It’s essential that each one of your athletes understands what they contribute to the team. Together, these contributions play an important role in the team’s culture.


So many teams under-perform because of personality conflicts created by a lack of understanding. It’s vital that each person is acknowledged and valued for what they bring to the team. Our Athlete Assessments DISC Profiles will help you learn more about yourself and your team. You can find out more here.


These are the rules which govern behavior, expectations and absolutely the consequences for when standards are not met. By explicitly stating this, every person knows where they stand and what’s expected.

You can get full details of the GRIP Model in our article ‘Team Culture and Identity in Sport‘.

Recruiting for your Team Culture

Some of the best coaches in the world are recruiting based on non-technical qualities. They’ve discovered what we at Athlete Assessments have always known to be true, that non-technical behaviors are what makes or breaks a team culture. And without a strong team culture, you won’t achieve peak levels of success.

Watch our video series on
Team Culture and Identity in Sport now!

While some are still recruiting for what they call the X Factor, an intangible quality, Coaches such as Bill Bilicheck, often referred to as the best coach in the history of the NFL, says he recruits his athletes based on the quality of dependability.

Non-technical skills such as the ability to motivate team members or encourage and engage – these are tangibles. You can see and feel and hear these skills. Coaches who are the most successful look for these culture-defining qualities, they recognize them and reward them. They also put consequences in place for when these team values aren’t upheld.

Reliability and effort counts for everything, because these are qualities of character. These qualities are all played out through behavior, so you need to ask yourself, what values do you promote in your program? Because let’s not forget, teams live and die by their culture.

At Athlete Assessments, we’re the experts in the ‘people side’ of sport. While we’re best known for our profiling and team dynamics consulting using the AthleteDISC, CoachDISC and Sports ManagerDISC, we do more than just Assessments.

Athlete Assessments’ Team Programs have been specifically designed to maximize the people side of your team.

  • Winning Back to Back ChampionshipsAchieve improved performance with better communication, relationship and conflict strategies
  • Get a ‘blue-print’ on how to coach to your athletes’ specific needs
  • Know with confidence how to develop strong team chemistry
  • Team Programs include DISC Profiles, detailed Coach’s Resources & Consultations
  • Work with a 4x Olympian with over 20 years in Coach Development & Leadership Training
  • Guaranteed to deliver improved performance and results

At Athlete Assessments we’re here to provide you with excellence in service and to help you be your best. If there is anything we can do to be of service, don’t hesitate to contact us.

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Where so many other factors in sport, across sports programs and organizations are very similar, managing the ‘people side’ well differentiates the mediocre and truly great. DISC Profiling will take your team’s performance to the next level, allowing you to get ahead and stay ahead.

Our team packages include DISC Assessments plus importantly, a series of consultations via video conference. Our goal is to use the information of the DISC profiles to the benefit of your program and coaching and make it as useful and practical as possible.

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