By Marcus Colby
The first part of this series explored how culture impacts the performance of sports teams. In this second installment, I’ll share practical tips on how performance staff can combine subjective and objective analysis to ensure values line up with actual day-to-day practices within the organization. I hope this will help you ensure your culture’s stated priorities align with the ways people act and how athletes are developed and coached as both players and people.
To create an effective culture, a team first needs to agree on several big picture goals. This involves consulting with head and assistant coaches, team captains, performance specialists, and – in some cases – the entire player roster. What would a successful win-loss record be for the upcoming season? How should you measure progression from last year? In which ways could you define meeting, exceeding, or falling short of expectations?
CONNECTING COACHING PHILOSOPHY AND CORE VALUES TO DESIRED OUTCOMES
Once the overarching aims have been defined, the next step is to identify a philosophy and accompanying core values that can be measured in some way and tied to desired outcomes.
Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll explained his team’s Win Forever philosophy like this to Bleacher Report: “It’s about being the very best you can be. Nothing else matters as long as you’re working and striving to be your best. Always compete. It’s truly that simple. Find the way to do your best. Compete in everything you do.”
Objective KPIs can then be identified that represent the embodiment of these core values and/or philosophy. For example, Steve Kerr and his Golden State Warriors coaching staff decided their main goal was to win the NBA title. Then he identified joy as one of the team’s four main values after he was challenged to do so by his mentor Carroll (the other three are mindfulness, compassion, and, like the Seahawks, competition).
CREATING KPIS TO MEASURE CULTURE
From there, Kerr and assistant coaches Ron Adams and Bruce Fraser chose total number of passes per game to represent joy, with the aim of surpassing 300 by the end of every fourth quarter. The Warriors went from second to last in the NBA in passing to number one, won three championships, and broke the Chicago Bulls single-season win record by notching 73 Ws in the 2015-2016 season.
This isn’t to say that Kerr and Carroll’s goal setting/core values and philosophy/KPIs approach is confined to basketball and football – it can be applied effectively to every sport at all levels.
As crucial as measurable KPIs are, adding subjective surveys into the mix can help ascertain whether or not team members and staff feel like the culture is embodying its core values. Are people happy with the team’s leadership? Why or why not? Do they understand the coaches’ philosophy and values? Are these being lived out in the locker room and at the practice facility, or are behaviors actually undermining the team’s culture?
The answers to such questions can then be overlaid by hard data and visualized in an AMS like Smartabase so they’re all clearly understood. With more numerical and self-reported statistics portrayed in a usable way, the performance staff can make well-informed course corrections that boost both team morale and game day performance.
KEEPING CULTURE THRIVING THROUGH GOOD TIMES AND BAD
It’s crucial to understand that goal setting is adjusted over time as the team’s situation evolves. Let’s say a squad loses several of its stars to injury or that the head coach leaves to take another job and brings most of his or her backroom staff along. Both scenarios might mean the end goal of winning a title has become unrealistic. It might also derail players’ individual aims. In which case, new targets must be set so the athletes still have something tangible to aim at.
No matter how much loyalty there is among a group of players and coaches, it’s also a stark reality that no team stays intact forever. Trades occur often at the pro level and transfers in the college ranks, while both coaching and performance staff members come and go at an ever-increasing rate in a highly mobile job market. This makes it critical for the coaching and performance staff to communicate the team’s goals, core values, philosophy, performance metrics, and the subjective assessment process clearly to new members of the group.
A performance management platform can help provide such consistency and assist staff members in walking incoming players and personnel through a defined, structured, and repeatable onboarding process. This is how culture is not only defined but also perpetuated as a living, breathing thing.
Ultimately, every team has its ups and downs. But if a strong and dynamic culture can be put into place and nurtured from both the ground up and the top down, that’s when sustained excellence can flourish. As Daniel Coyle correctly observes in his brilliant book The Culture Code, “While successful culture can look and feel like magic, the truth is that it’s not. Culture is a set of living relationships working toward a shared goal. It’s not something you are. It’s something you do.”