September 6, 2017 • FeaturesWinning Hoops

Team culture wins the locker room

by Matt Richards

We spend countless hours on player evaluations, recruitment, practice preparation, scouting and film breakdown. Those tasks are time consuming but also necessary for our teams to be prepared and successful.

But how much time do you spend fostering team culture?

I’ve found this is the key element to winning on the court. I recently read a great book called, “You Win the Locker Room First, the Seven C’s to Build a Winning Team in Business, Sports, and Life.” This forced me evaluate my own philosophy on the time I spend being proactive in efforts on creating sound team culture, which I have phrased “culture expectations to a successful locker room.” The longer I’m in coaching, the more I understand that without positive team culture, you can’t expect to have a locker room full of players that are going to be successful.

The first key to any team culture is defining expectations for your players. First, start with describing the difference between a “chemistry creator” and an “energy sucker.”

A chemistry creator:

  • Cares about the team outcome over their personal accolades.
  • Puts teammates’ success over their own.
  • Holds others accountable (team rules, use of social media, classroom expectations, practice effort, etc.).
  • Finds a way to help a teammate.
  • Emphasizes success in the classroom to the best of their abilities.
  • Acknowledges unselfish efforts by others.

Some of these expectations are met on the basketball court, while others are not. All are factors that lead to our team having success in what we are trying to accomplish.

An energy sucker:

  • Is only satisfied when personal accolades are accomplished, regardless of team outcomes.
  • Blames others for personal and team failures.
  • Complains about shots, playing time or their role on the team.
  • Doesn’t commit to their best effort academically (misses class, turns in assignments late, misses study hall, etc.).
  • Has bad body language when receiving instruction.

I’ve found that all of these behaviors can be contagious. Once it starts, it can snowball. Define these behaviors early and correct any weaknesses. Make sure to have discussions on whether certain individuals should still be involved with the program.

Just as you want to correct energy suckers, you want to promote chemistry creators. Failing to spend enough time promoting the attributes we want in chemistry creators is the most common mistake we make as coaches. We have to remember that these traits are not always prominent in our players, but we can teach them and develop athletes to be these types of teammates.

The following are four suggestions I’ve used over the years that encourage chemistry creators.

1. Always teach it. The first thing I do is teach “the point.” When you receive a great pass, that player should point a finger in the direction of the passer. It sounds like common sense, but look at your practice and see how many times that happens. You most likely will be amazed at how infrequently it takes place. A lot of players don’t arrive in your program with the instinct to recognize unselfish play. You have to teach it early and often. This simple gesture is the basic foundation of the chemistry creator.

2Encourage unselfishness. Early in your season, start practice by asking players what they did that day to help a teammate? Don’t always make it about being on the floor. Encourage small things like an upperclassman helping a freshman find a classroom or assisting them in signing up for classes during the next term. Encourage players to be accountable for each other’s success in all phases.

3. Add incentive. Put a value in some way to unselfish intangibles. A colleague of mine has a gold practice shirt that is given out each day to a player who took the most offensive charges. You could even do this for the player who was the most encouraging during practice. The sky is the limit on your criteria, but build a sense of importance to some of these intangibles that you want and recognize them with a reward.

4. Sell the philosophy. Make sure your captains and team leaders are reinforcing this philosophy. I have my captain meet with me every day, even if only for five minutes, to have this type of dialogue. Your captain must be willing to put these factors into motion by demonstrating them. I can’t stress how important this is to your team success.

Winning is always a byproduct of different factors. By creating a team culture that promotes chemistry creators, you’ve put yourself in a position to not only enjoy each day, but to then strive for success.

Matt Richards is the associate dean of students, director of athletics and head men’s basketball coach at Southern Maine Community College.