Create the Right Sports Team Culture: 10 Critical Factors

Bo Hanson
4x Olympian, Director, and Lead Consultant

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Culture is being discussed in sporting circles now more than ever. Why? Because it is a significant performance factor. If you have the ‘right’ culture, your team is more likely to achieve sustainable success – not always winning, but always being in the hunt. If you have the ‘wrong’ culture, your chances of any success, even fleeting success are almost zero. So how do you create the right sports team culture? In this article we discuss 10 Factors that Define Successful Sports Team Cultures.

What is culture? In its simplest and most useful description culture is the “way we behave on this team”. Behavior is a reflection of values. Recruiting and developing a common set of values helps create success.

So how do teams end up with the ‘wrong’ culture. There are several Australian teams which have had issues with their culture prominently displayed in the media including the 2012 Australian Olympic Swimming Team, the Australian Cricket team, the Australian Davis Cup team, and (in previous years) the Australian Rugby Union Team -the Wallabies. In this article we will not be going into great depth as to what went wrong with these specific teams, but will instead be looking at 10 factors that define successful cultures and reflect on the associated culture challenge.

In my role at Athlete Assessments, I have had the opportunity to work with more than 700 different teams over a 15 year period. In working with this many teams, I have had the privilege of seeing a lot of different cultures – successful and unsuccessful. In terms of successful cultures, there are certainly patterns of behavior that have become clear to me that signal a successful culture.

10 Factors that Define Successful Cultures:

  1. The Coaches have been deliberate about creating the culture they want. They have never let it just happen or emerge.
  2. Coaches have used a process such as the GRIP Model to develop their culture.
  3. Coaches have defined their values and behaviors and these match the goal the team wants to achieve.
  4. These teams have effective team captains who, above all else, role model the desired culture.
  5. These teams typically use words to describe themselves such as accountable, honest, resilient, team focused and they always reward effort before results.
  6. Coaches want and give their athletes appropriate ownership over the team’s direction and they are collaborative in their approach to being the best they can be. The Coach is ultimately the leader of the team.
  7. Poor behavior (which happens even on the best teams) is dealt with immediately and there are significant consequences. Appropriate behavior is recognized immediately and rewarded in a meaningful way, usually this is not about receiving material things.
  8. Recurring poor behavior (behavior which is not in line with the team’s core values) is not tolerated no matter who behaves this way. There is no allowance made simply because you are the “best” player on the team. Coaches who protect their team culture are able to make the decision to cut those players who do not consistently live the team’s values.
  9. Performance standards and effort are never compromised. No excuses, no matter what.
  10. Every aspect of what matters most in a successful team’s culture is reinforced through the team’s symbols and symbolic acts. Every single person who comes from outside the team to watch the team practice or compete is able to define their culture quickly and easily due to the clarity and consistency of the messages delivered and spoken about by the Coaches and team members.

Take a look at your culture and try to define what it is by observing what the people involved in the team actually do. Then use this above check list and see if you do these things. I hope you are able to create a sustainable culture and one which delivers for you in the long term.

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 assist you with, please contact us.

Recommended Articles

Culture is a buzz word in sport. Coaches often attribute their success or failure to this ambiguous word. But at the crux of it why should you care about your sports team’s culture? The short answer…

Here in Australia, sport is part of the fabric of our society. Growing up, few achievements are more significant than to be part of a championship high school sports team. The relative glory this brings from the accolades of the past students who relive their experiences through to the younger generation of champions, to the proud parents, whose children must have inherited their wonderful athletic genes – everyone loves a winner. As part of my high school rowing team, I dreamt each year as I progressed through the age groups, about the opportunity to win the championship race, aptly named the ‘Head of the River’. What made the dream even more poignant was the fact that in my senior years of school, I was hoping to be part of the crew who would break the losing drought for our school. Not since 1948, when the race was contested in four man boats, had my school won the prestigious event. In 1955, the event was contested in eight man boats and this was the race I now found myself a part of.

Why we recommend it: Bringing together a group of people to forge a high performing team culture is no simple exercise. It doesn’t happen by itself, nor is it a ‘matter of time’. Master coaches understand the intricacies, focus and persistence it takes. Be confident in managing your team’s unique culture, with practical coaching strategies to keep your team on the right track. It can be difficult to find a resource that can effectively guide your team through the potential pitfalls of culture. But this eBook is designed to take you step by step through the four distinct types of culture, and how to coach for these cultures.

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2 thoughts on “Create the Right Sports Team Culture: 10 Critical Factors”

  1. Thanks for these tips for having a good sports team culture. I’m glad you mentioned that it’s important for teams to have effective team captains. I’m interested to learn how these captains can be effective, like if there’s certain goals they should achieve that the coach gives them.

    1. Thanks Taylor! Keep an eye out on our ‘Most Recent’ articles and also our ‘5 Minutes with Bo Hanson’ section of the website as we do cover these topics regularly.

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