Why a Sports Team’s Culture Matters

Mim Haigh
Sports Writer – Athlete Assessments

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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 is, while some sport team’s cultures can create sustained success, others will only deliver success in the short term, if at all.

Culture is a critical factor in the success of any organized group, whether that be a corporate organization or a sports team.

That is the short answer. In the rest of this article we will discuss why you should care about your sports team’s culture in more depth. Our eBook, “Team Culture: Is it making or breaking your sports team?” was created to assist sport coaches in understanding their team’s current culture and then, help them develop a culture which will create sustained success.

What is a Sports Team’s Culture?

Every team has a culture. Even if you do not know what yours is, one exists.

Culture is a measure of the observable behaviors your team and organization promotes and accepts. Ultimately, culture is best defined simply as ‘the way we do things around here’ or ‘the way we behave around here’. Culture is not what you think, or want to do, it is what you do. Full stop. Some teams espouse a certain culture but actually behave in a very different way. That is, they do not ‘walk the talk’. Culture is the ‘talk you walk’. Your team’s culture results in either effective and productive outcomes or ineffective and unproductive outcomes.

The real question is, what impact is it having on your team right now? Why does it matter?

What is Cultural Alignment? Why does it matter?

Cultural alignment is the degree to which everyone involved in the group (i.e. in the sports team) is ‘on the same page’. That is, their values and behaviors are congruent with the goals and strategies the team is trying to achieve.

Teams which have this cultural alignment generally are more successful, experience less conflict, less turnover and have higher levels of athlete engagement (athletes’ commitment to the team goals and morale within the team).

Now that we have begun to illustrate the importance of culture, what are the benefits of having a culture that is aligned throughout your organization or at your team level?

Aligned cultures tend to have more engaged people.

Research has demonstrated that when employees and senior leaders have the same view of the culture, employee engagement metrics (including satisfaction, commitment and likelihood of recommending their organization as a great place to work) are markedly higher than those in less aligned cultures. In a sporting context these benefits are all things coaches would want in their team.

It’s easier to retain more engaged people.

Research supports how employee engagement is linked with lower turnover intentions. In the competitive world of college sport, professional sport or international competition, there is always a challenge to recruit and select the best athletes. For talented athletes, there are usually multiple teams actively recruiting them. This creates a similar environment to a ‘tight’ job market in the business world, where companies ‘fight’ over the best candidates. In this environment, a strong and defined culture can be your team’s competitive advantage. If you can make sure your top performers stay engaged, you have a better chance of retaining them.

Aligned cultures also tend to have more loyal customers. It isn’t a long stretch to apply this to your team members and fans (customers).

The importance of alignment between employee and organizational values makes sense intuitively. Those employees who embrace their culture and hold the organization’s mission as their own are more engaged in their work and in the organization as a whole. They are more motivated to achieve organizational goals and to ensure that the mission is realized. Finally, such employees are more satisfied with their job and are less likely to leave. These employees’ enthusiasm and service is recognized and appreciated by customers with whom they interact. Again, all benefits coaches would want in their team.

To put it frankly, when the culture is aligned, everyone wins.

Unfortunately, not as much research about team culture is available in the sporting context. However, we can draw much from business focused research, as in the end ‘people are people’. There are considerable elements of organizational culture that are directly transferable to the sporting context.

“I think all of those environments, whether it’s a business environment or sporting environment, are about developing people. So, if you develop your people, your business is going to be more successful. It’s just a matter of creating an environment where that becomes a happening every day.”

Sir Graham Henry, former New Zealand All Blacks Coach

Much has been written about culture and its role in creating a profitable company in the world of business. In our sporting world, culture is gaining more acceptance as one of the most important factors to get right to enjoy sustained success. 

This is one of the reasons why we developed our eBook, “Team Culture: Is it making or breaking your sports team?” to assist sport coaches in understanding their team’s current culture and then, in consultation with staff and athletes, decide on whether this culture is serving you well, on and off the ‘field’.

We highly recommend you purchase the eBook; for the price of a couple of coffees you can have confidence in knowing what affects your team’s culture, how to analyze your team’s culture, the four different DISC team cultures, and their individual characteristics and values. Most valuable for coaches, this eBook discusses how different athletes will feel in each culture, and how to tailor your coaching for the unique culture of your team.

You may also be interested in the hundreds of free articles and videos in our Learning Zone.

At Athlete Assessments we’ve worked with over 100,000 individual athletes, coaches, and sports managers on team culture and peak performance. Contact us today to find out more.

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Where so many other factors in sport, across sports programs and organizations are very similar, effectively managing the ‘people side’ is what 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 our sport-specific 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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Bo Hanson

Senior Consultant & Director

Bo Hanson’s career within the sport and the business sector spans over 25 years, delivering leadership, management, and coach development. In addition to his own athletic career comprising of four Olympic appearances and including three Olympic medals, Bo has worked for many years with coaches and athletes from over 40 different sports across the globe. Bo was also the winner of the Australian Institute of Training and Development (AITD) 2023 Award for L&D Professional of the Year, for his dedication to L&D and transformational work across various industries.

After a successful career in sport including four Olympics and three Olympic Medals, Bo co-founded and developed Athlete Assessments in 2007. Bo now focuses on working with clients to achieve their own success on and off ‘the field’, and has attained an unmatched track-record in doing exactly this.

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Now, watch us interrupt him for a round of quick fire questions.