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  • Writer's pictureWayne Lafley

What is your team’s culture?

What is your team’s culture? This is an interesting question. All teams have a culture that has been created and shared by both the coaches and players. The fundamental rules that often shape the culture of a team usually begins with the ideals of the head coach and what they value in their team and players. Not all values will be shared or are similar in all coaches. I believe the key for coaches to create their desired culture is to share with their team the fundamental rules and beliefs a head of the season and then make sure that they hold each other accountable to those fundamental rules and beliefs. No one, players or coaches, are above these rules and beliefs. The coaches and players are both needed to police these rules and beliefs, but ultimately the head coach is mainly responsible. Below you will see the four main fundamental rules and beliefs I try to implement in my teams.

- Accountability – We have certain ideals that all our players and coaches must conform to around accountability. These are wide ranging. They can be anything from taking care of your uniform, to discussing playing time, to communicating missing or being late for practice. For example, we give all our players practice uniforms. That player must have that practice uniform at each practice. That means jersey and shorts. If a player doesn’t have their shorts, then the whole team runs. If they do this a second time, then we run twice as much. Another example is, we have a rule that all players must be dressed and ready to practice 10-minutes before our designated practice time. Since our players travel from all over Vermont things can happen (construction, accidents, etc.) that can cause players to be late. That player must call or text me before that 10-minute window for me not to consider them late. The player must call or text, not their parent. I will not accept a parent call or text as valid. If the player doesn’t call or text, then the team and player will run a suicide for every minute that player is late without communicating. This rule is especially effective as the players often take ownership of tracking down their teammates to call or text, so they do not have to run. These examples are not an opportunity for me to be punitive towards my team, but an opportunity for me to teach my team accountability. Players, regardless of age or level of play need accountability. It helps them understand that their actions impact the team as a whole.

- Communication – This was briefly touched on in the accountability section. Communication is huge in our team culture. It can range from letting us know you are running late (talked about in the accountability section), to discussing playing time or your role on the team, to talking on the court during drills. The team that communicates the best often has the least issues. We tell our players that they should feel free to come to our coaches with any issues on or off the court. We prefer that these meetings be player and coaches only. This forces the player to learn to advocate for themselves. Parents often take over these meetings and speak for the players. Our coaches must speak openly with the player and tell them the truth, regardless if the player likes what the coaches is saying. Honesty on both sides is the best policy. On the court we have a rule that when drills are live players must be talking every 3-5 seconds. We give our players one-word or two-word calls that they can use to describe in drills what their job is during that drill. They must communicate those calls. Know your job, communicate your job, do your job! For example, if your job is protecting the rim on defense then you need to be in position and your call is low hole. Failure to communicate gets you or your team a warning. There is no second warning….at that point we run. This also creates a level of accountability. If you don’t want to make your teammates to run, then talk! Communication on the court can make up for a series of mistakes. We always want these 3-5 seconds of communication on both offense and defense, in games and in practice.

· Toughness – Most coaches desire a level of toughness with their teams. For us we want toughness both physically and mentally. The physical side of things for us often revolves around diving on the floor for loose balls, setting physical screens to open up teammates, fighting thru screens on defense, not allowing yourself to be pushed around on the court, playing harder than the other team, running harder than the other team, etc. These are all important things that we address both positively and negatively in games and practice. Players need to hear that they showed toughness when they dove on a loose ball or set a great screen. They also need to hear when they didn’t do those things. The mental side of toughness is just as important as the physical side. How do players handle adversity and respond is huge. We want to squash all signs of pouting or poor body language. Pouting and poor body language makes it all about you and sucks the energy out of the team. If I see this as a coach I tell that player immediately and let them know that they will not re-enter the game until I see that these things have changed. We also do not ever allow our players to bend over and put their hands on their knees. This sends the message that we are tired, both physically and mentally. I know that may seem silly to some, don’t touch your knees, but for us we never want anyone to think we are tired physically or mentally. We want to be viewed by others as tough along with actually being tough. These things all add up to creating a level of toughness both physically and mentally that give you an advantage over your opponent.

- Share & Care – We expect that all our coaches and players understand that they share in winning and losing and should care about winning and losing. We are a team….and therefore we win together and lose together. The share & care also extends to what happens on the court. We expect that players will be happy for each other when some one has a good game or makes a good play. It is important to understand that often someone else does the work that leads to the made shot, etc. Like the screener that freed up the shooter, or the driver who drew two defenders and kicked the ball out to the shooter. Often the made shot gets the applause, but the person who did the work leading up to the made shot is just as valuable. We tell our players all the time that sometimes you do the work and someone else gets the reward, and that teams who share & care are ok and happy with that. Both are just as valuable, and everyone on the team needs to be excited for both the person who did the work and the person who made the shot. We want our players recognizing this by telling each other nice shot, good screen, great pass, great extra pass, etc. Communicating this stuff positively enforces the action and makes players want to do it again. My best teams over the years only cared about winning together and are we getting better together. They never cared about shot attempts or individual applause. With team success you get the most individual success! I truly believe this!

I hope that this gives you insight into some of our team culture and how we develop it thru our fundamental rules and beliefs. It is important to understand as I mentioned in the beginning, not all cultures are the same. Each team will have their own. These are just a few of the things that have helped us be successful over the years.

Thanks for reading! -Wayne



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