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Coaches Network: Building a Positive Culture When the Season Begins

  • Date:
    Oct 9, 2015

Olympic gold medalists Chris Mullin and Katie Smith delivered sessions at the USA Basketball Youth Coach Academy in New York last weekend. The main theme of their sessions centered on the importance of establishing a positive culture in a team environment. So we put the question to the USA Basketball Coaches Network: 

What will you do to establish or reinforce a positive culture in your team as you start your season?


Don Showalter, head coach, Iowa City High School (Iowa)

The culture is how you do things related to your team -- how your team practices, how your players conduct themselves off the court, being great teammates, demonstrating trust for each other and communicating with each other. Many teams have championship talent but not championship habits. Habits are part of the culture that you as a coach develop on your team. Habits take time and patience. Skill work develops proper habits, which develops better teams. Culture must be worked on daily and I have made the statement many times that a coach must fight for his or her culture every day.

We have a team meeting every day before practice to talk about standards with the team. We emphasize many times that individual standards are what you hold yourself accountable for and team standards are what you hold your teammates accountable for. When this happens, the team is truly owned by the players.  These meetings are very beneficial to develop the proper culture within the team. We do this now with our USA Basketball teams and my high school team.

Building a team culture sometimes is more about subtraction than addition. You must get rid of excuses, comfort zones and negativity before you can start to add anything to the culture of your team.


Sue Phillips, head coach, Archbishop Mitty High School (Calif.)

As a coaching staff, we strive to build a positive team culture through a process called S.M.A.R.T: Steady, Model, All-inclusive, Respect and Tradition. Creating a positive team culture requires a steady diet of actions/activities that strengthen relationships and build player confidence. Reward and praise your players for acts of stellar leadership, teamwork and unselfish play. Moreover, integrate fun activities such as community service, team dinners, or bowling night for the players to further bond off the court. It is equally important to model a positive culture among your coaching staff. Always present a united front with shared responsibilities and mutual ownership of the program. Being all-inclusive highlights the idea of taking the necessary steps to ensure that every team member feels equally valued. Player roles must be clearly defined, explicitly communicated, and equally applauded. Respect yourself, each other, and your opponents. The staff can make its point without making an enemy. We believe in teaching life lessons, such as discipline, within our team dynamic. In our program, character always comes first. Tradition can be built or built upon. The prevailing vibe of your team should scream pride. Players must play for each other and for the name that is across their jersey. Positive team culture precedes championships.

Brian Robinson, head coach, Bishop McGuinness Catholic High School (N.C.) 

Culture is very important to our program's success. Having everyone on the same page heading into the season keeps the thinking and decision-making simple. We make sure that the players, parents and coaches know ahead of time what our expectations are, how we will do things, and the penalties for not following along. We do that through a preseason email to everyone trying out for the team. That information tends to weed out those who are not 100 percent with the established culture before tryouts start. We believe that our culture allows us to fall back on something tried and true when we face the adverse moments that are sure to come about over the course of a season.



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