Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Building Championship Culture


A few years ago I spoke at the Glazier Clinic in Atlantic City about building championship culture, and out of all of the clinic talks I have done, that is the one that has had the biggest response. I love the X's and O's of coaching, but my favorite aspect is the opportunity for young people to accomplish goals that others think are unattainable. Coaching is not a career as much as a calling. We have an opportunity to change lives each day.  I hope there is something here you can use.

In my 19 years of coaching, I have not had a job yet where we came into a place that had a championship culture. Everywhere I have been has been an opportunity to turn a program around. At each place we faced the same enemies: Complacency, apathy, and an acceptance of mediocrity. 

At Columbus High School in the Bronx, we took a program that had never had a winning season, never been to the post season, and was in the midst of a 27 game losing streak, and turned the program into a perennial playoff contender.  How did we change the culture? First, is understanding that the smallest details make the biggest difference. We focused on making sure we took care of the seemingly insignificant details. We did not ever focus on what we didn’t have. We focused on ourselves first. We didn’t worry about what our opponents were doing. We had no control over them. What we did have total control over was what we did each day.


The first thing we did was talk to them about the why. This is why we are going to coach you on this. This is why we have to do it this way. Kids today need to know “why” something is done a certain way. Once they understand the why, they will buy into the what and the how.

Each day we had the weight room set up a certain way. We had the racks in a certain spot. We had the plates organized a certain way. We set a standard of performance and held them accountable. We held them accountable for their lockers, and their locker room. If we said your t-shirt hangs on the right hook and your shorts are on the left, that’s where we expected them to be. If they weren’t, we retrained and reminded them.  


When you build culture, the expectations have to be clear and concise. When we stood in line, or were in front of the coaches, we had clear expectations. We stand with our eyes and chin up, chest spread, and hands behind our back. When we take a knee, we will put our left knee down with our hands on our right knee. That is the expectation. There was no exception.


I learned a great deal from our head coach, David Diaz, about setting high expectations and not succumbing to mediocrity. We had a certain way we set the field up, and a time frame. 15 minutes after the bell we started our agility circuit. The field had to be set up, and every athlete had to be at their assigned station. The whistle would blow, and we would begin. Our kids had the responsibility of field set-up. One Wednesday before a huge game, the field wasn’t set up correctly. The sled wasn’t dressed, and some bags were not set up, and a couple of kids straggled out late. Coach Diaz brought everyone together and told the players to break the field down and put everything away. They looked bewildered. But they did as told. After they put everything away we met in the locker room. He told everyone they had 5 minutes to set the field up correctly.


The players moved frantically to set the field. However, a few of them let their attitude get twisted up and they straggled. It took 5 minutes and 14 seconds to finish the field. They didn’t meet the five minute standard. We spent the entire practice setting up and breaking down the field. After several attempts, the field was finally set up correctly and on time.  We practiced for about ten minutes total before we had to let them go.


When the coaching staff got upstairs I was livid. We scripted everything in practice, and we obviously couldn't get through much of what we had planned. Coach Diaz let me stew for a few minutes, and when I had gotten it out, he gave me a great lesson. Our X’s and O’s won’t matter if we can’t even get the field set up. If we can’t meet simple expectations like setting the field up, how are we going to beat a state ranked team on Friday Night? How are we going to line up right with bullets flying if we can't get a rack put in the right place. It all matters. These little details matter.


Attention to details is what sets apart consistent success. When you parallel squat, are your athletes getting to parallel? Or are they cutting corners? Are you allowing them to cut corners? Do you have a definition of parallel that is clear and concise? Are you willing to hold kids accountable to reaching a standard?


If you are teaching a six inch zone step to your offensive line, do you accept a 4 inch step? When you are teaching a 10 yard stop route, do you accept and eight yard route? Or, do you correct and reteach? Do your players know why you have to get to 10 yards on that route? Do they know “why” they have to perform the skill?


If you want consistent and sustained success, everyone on your staff has to be willing to hold kids accountable to meeting your standard each and every day. It’s hard. It is very, very hard. You can’t decide that today it is okay to do it 90% right. You can’t let it slip. When we broke out to begin an activity, or transition from one activity to another, we asked them to hustle. We showed them what it looks like. We modeled it. Then, we held them accountable. There were occasions when guys didn’t hustle. It didn’t meet our standard. What do you do?


Are you willing to accept less than what your standard is? When I was a young coach, I didn’t want to distract from the weight room or practice field for these “little things.” However, once you let them slip, it is hard to get them back. It is harder to get them back than it is to simply teach it right the first time. What we did was send them back with specific instructions, and ask them to do it again to our standard. If they met our standard, we moved on. If not, we would do it again, and again. We would sometimes have to stop and reteach the why.


Columbus had been mired in mediocrity for years. They expected to lose, so everything they did was going to lead to losing. They had the “why should we work hard if we are just going to lose” syndrome.  Many programs, after years of losing, find themselves with this very culture.


We evaluated the program and found the weakest three areas. First, the strength and conditioning program was terrible. Second, numbers were very, very low. Third, the equipment was old and dilapidated.


We focused on improving those three areas, using the strength and conditioning program to be a catalyst for the cultural shift.  Our players needed to learn stretch themselves. They needed to learn that they could do much more than they thought possible. We recorded everything they did in the weight room. They kept record cards we got from B-F-S so they could see their progress. When we started we had 2 kids that squatted 300 pounds. By our fourth year, every varsity player squatted 300 pounds, and a dozen parallel squatted 450.  We are not talking about a half squat. We are talking about truly getting the thigh parallel to the ground.


In addition to getting stronger, we were able to teach mental toughness. We gave them a definition: Mental Toughness: The ability to face adversity, failure, and negative events, without a loss of effort, attitude, and enthusiasm.  We also started to put together a leadership development and character education curriculum. We took some of D.W. Rutledge and Dennis Parker’s Coaching to Change Lives and began teaching it with our players. We talked about each day being an opportunity. Do you “have to,” or do you “get to.” You can’t relive today. You only get one shot. What are you going to do with it? Are you willing to make the most of it, without exception?


As mentioned above, we made sure our focus was on being the best “we” that we could be. We didn’t worry much about who we played or what they were or were not. We focused on being our best each day. We helped them to develop their attitude, and taught them the impact a great attitude would have on their success. Three things you completely control are your attitude, effort, and enthusiasm. Ninety percent of your success in any endeavor is your attitude at the beginning.


Think about teams that are struggling. They believe they will lose, and their attitude reflects this. What happens? They put forth mediocre effort and lose. We knew the scoreboard would be a tough place to win in the beginning. We need to have some small victories to build on, so we used John Wooden’s definition of success.  “Success is peace of mind of knowing you did your very best, to be the very best that you could be.” At the end of the day we would use this definition to evaluate whether we “won the day.”


All of a sudden, our kids started to believe in themselves and each other. We started seeing them take ownership. Another very valuable exercise we did was have them come up with goals for the season. They listed practice and weight room goals, and set their own standards of performance.  We also asked them to consider their identity. If someone came to watch you workout, how would they describe you? What would they say if they saw you in the classroom? What do you think championship effort would look like?

Once it became their deal, and they became vested in the program, the culture began to shift. They began to lead each other, and be accountable to each other. We asked them to hold each other accountable, and take over the role of leading.

You get what you emphasize! If you emphasize hustle, that is what you will get. If you don't put an emphasis on something, don't expect it to happen. 


There is no simple answer or magic pill to change culture. It is a constant, on-going process. You must be willing to pay attention to the seemingly insignificant details that most would choose to overlook. In addition, here are some important points:

1.  Set High Standards
2.      Clearly Define Expecations
3.      Explain the Why
4.      Teach them how to meet the standard
5.      Hold them accountable
6.      Reteach if standard is not met
7.      Build on small success
8.      Value Hard Work
9.      Teach Leadership with INTENT
10. Have a great Attitude
11.  Give Great Effort
12. Always be enthusiastic

The most important aspect of consistently successful football programs is the attention to seemingly insignificant details. If you want to be successful on the field, you have to take care of the little things. If we say to stand with your eyes up and your hands behind your back, you should stand exactly that way. If we tell you to hustle from point A to point B, you need to hustle from point A to point B. There can be no exceptions. If we don't do it right, we are going to do it again until we do it correctly.


Self Discipline: Do what you are supposed to do, when you are supposed to do it, the way it is supposed to be done, regardless of circumstance or how you feel! This goes for players and coaches. We must give our best effort every single day in the weightroom, meeting room, on the field, and in the classroom. We must make the effort to correct behavior that doesn't meet our standard of performance.

Finally, every day keep working to help kids grow. Make sure you are always moving forward. Evaluate, learn, grow, and keep moving. I hope there is something you can take from this post and use in your program! Please let me know if there is anything I can do!

A few months back I published a couple of iBooks that can help your program with X's and O's. The first is on Installing RPO's into any offense. Here is a link to the iBooks version: http://itunes.apple.com/us/book/id1078061959. The ibooks version includes explanations, diagrams, and video clips on multiple RPO Concepts. It will give you a simple process for implementing them into your offense. I
If you don't have an iPhone, iPad, or Mac, you can order the Amazon version for the Kindle. It has everything except the embedded video. You can order it here: http://www.amazon.com/Installing-Explosive-Concepts-Into-Offense-ebook/dp/B01B12YSCG/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8

I also wrote a book on Tempo. It will greatly help you build a multiple tempo system with simple communication that will allow your kids to play with confidence. It also had over an hour of video clips! You can order the ibooks version here: http://itunes.apple.com/us/book/id1075902270.


Order the Amazon Kindle version here:

1 comment:

  1. Great post coach. I'm in a similar situation at my current school. A once proud program was 13-67 when I got the job. Had exactly the loser syndrome that you described. I probably could have did a better job early but it was my first job too and I had to learn. We had back to back 2-8 seasons, but I started focusing on many of the things you mentioned here in my second year, mainly, not letting the kids slide on the small stuff. I'm so proud of our kids now because they are some of the hardest working individuals I have ever coached. This past season we went 5-5 and made the playoffs for the first time since 2001! Talk about a culture shock. Now are kids are busting there humps everyday. Obviously sometimes there needs to be correction, but its amazing to me how things that used to be so much of a struggle to get kids to do, now they just do it. They know it is expected of them. Changing the culture is so much of a challenge but it is fun at the same time. But it is a never ending process. As the head coach, you must be an outstanding leader, and train your assistants what you expect also. Maxwell's 21 laws of leadership are a must read for any head coach. Thanks for the post coach. It's always good to read about what you have to say. Coach Jacks

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