Directing Team Culture

Mim Haigh
Sports Writer – Athlete Assessments

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Should Team Culture be coach driven or player lead?


This article illustrates reasons why coaches need to be involved in guiding (not directing) team culture. We also emphasize the importance of using the playing group’s experience in establishing team culture. Earlier articles give a definition of culture in a sporting context and detail strategies that coaches can use to develop team culture.

Fundamentally, coaches need to be involved in directing team culture to ensure that the culture surrounding their athletes or program supports the level of performance and behavior that athletes need to succeed.

After working with athletes of all abilities, Bo Hanson, Senior Consultant at Athlete Assessments says, “from my experience, culture develops in a more sustainable way if coaches take a collaborative approach by guiding a team’s discussion on the type of culture they need. A need is based on the team’s own unique circumstances at a point in time. Because the culture must represent the team’s current stage of growth, from season to season, it needs to be reviewed, making sure it serves the team and their aspirations for the new season.”

Hanson explains that the best way to achieve an effective culture is to take a collaborative approach. He says that this approach is distinguished by, “jointly discussing team goals, establishing core values and defining these clearly, before finally creating a set of tangible behaviors for all to live by on a daily basis. Collaboration means discussion. This means communication in a transparent manner and a high level of participation from each team member so each person can say, “I have been heard and involved.” If this does not happen in this manner, the chances of holding members accountable for “agreed” standards diminishes.”

Comparing the collaborative approach, Hanson says, “some may suggest team members can drive or create culture. However, the issue with this approach is, only using one segment of the team to drive or create culture means that the holistic view is lost. No doubt athletes have a lot to contribute, they do however have a limited view of the team and all associated with the team. Athletes are also so consumed by the “doing” of their sport, they cannot possibly see the whole picture. Again, this is why a collaborative approach is critical.”

He elaborates, “obviously the degree to which athletes are involved and instrumental in upholding team culture is a function of their age and experience level in performing this role. Some teams have exceptional leadership and as such, coaches can literally take more of a facilitation or even lesser role. But, most teams do not have the necessary high-level experience, even at professional level, to warrant this kind of approach. As such, this needs to be reflected by coaches guiding the development of culture and developing leadership capability in their team members, with an eventual view to teaching athletes to take on this role.”

Hanson explains, “culture is so unique and particular to each team. No two cultures will ever be the same. The reality of cultures subtly changing from season to season is real, but there are also occasions where the program is a reflection on the coach more than the athletes. Where the coach has been in the role for 5 years or more, that coach has been able to set a direction and develop a culture which is representative of their own values. They can then recruit for athletes who are satisfied and engaged in living these values. When this happens, the culture is less likely to change each year and usually just has unique themes or focus points branching out from the main culture. These focus points keep the culture fresh and the new athletes feeling like they have some belonging and ownership.


In summary, coaches need to be involved in guiding the development of team culture, the degree to which that culture is player lead or coach driven will vary from team to team and depend largely on the composition and contribution of the playing group.


Where to from Here…

If you’ve enjoyed this article, you will likely value watching this video series.

Team Culture and Identity in Sport Video Series

Getting the culture right in your team and organization is crucial for success on any level. So how do you ensure that your culture gives your athletes the opportunity to achieve their fullest potential? In this 7-part video presentation, Bo Hanson discusses the importance of team culture, and how effectively utilizing the GRIP Model during your season can go a long way to ensuring your team’s culture starts on, and stays on, the right track. Watch the video series now!

At Athlete Assessments, we’re experts in the people side of sport. We know sport and live high-performance every day. Our reputation and proven success at the elite level speaks for itself. The results that our National, Olympic, Professional and Collegiate team clients achieve directly reflects their focus on getting the people side right.

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