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Nov 6 2016 - A Look at Culture

A Look at Culture                By. Jason Reindl

Culture is defined as the attitudes and behavior characteristics of a particular group. Within sport there are an endless number of unique cultures. A single athlete in the athletics community might be part of multiple distinct cultural groups in that their club team has a culture, their individual training group has a culture, their school team has a culture, and the provincial team has a unique culture.  Each of these groups have distinct cultural characteristics and expected behaviors which are directed by leaders, which can include coaches, captains, teammates, and even previous individuals who left a cultural legacy.

As the coach/leader of a training group and multiple teams I ask myself what is the culture within my group and within the teams that I lead? What is the attitude in regards to training? What is the attitude in regards to competition? What are the expected behaviors associated with those two situations? Do they differ? While many answers to these questions can be found in my coaching philosophy I have found it beneficial to have the athletes explain how they view the culture of their group to see what they perceive and believe.  Other questions can help identify cultural elements within the group.  Do the athletes show up to practice on time? Do they understand and view failure as a good thing, which can lead to increased learning, growth, and positive change? Do the athletes see that the efforts that they put fourth day in and day out in training has a direct impact on their performance? Do they reflect, believe, and actively engage in the development process? When I have the opportunity to work with younger, developing athletes we make sure that the culture is centered on fun and learning. When I work with older athletes who have more performance focused goals we still have fun but the culture shifts towards personal responsibility in regards to goal achievement.

I believe that in my performance-training group we have a culture of excellence and this culture gets reaffirmed to them on a daily basis. While it is very difficult to explain the culture that exists within my group here are seven quick snapshots of the more tangible aspects within it:

1.     The athlete drives the bus (Gordon, 2007).

2.     There is always a choice.

3.     Our choices can be positive or negative towards the pursuit of our goals.

4.     Achievement of our goals does not come without sacrifice.

5.     “Culture affects motivation, and motivation affects productivity and performance” (Gordon, 2010, p. 29).

6.     Every individual within the group is important and each member is responsible for supporting each other.

7.     Your training group is your family.

In the book Legacy by James Kerr (2007) he highlights fifteen lessons on leadership that contribute to the culture and sustained success of the New Zealand National Rugby program or as they are more commonly called the All Blacks. This book is a can’t miss and all coaches and leaders can benefit from its entertaining format.

Ultimately, the culture of the team and group starts with the coach and the leadership that they display. Is the message within the group/team consistent? Does it have a clear purpose that guides them and the decisions that they make? What are the behaviors that are praised? What are the behaviors that are frowned upon? If the culture of the group creates a situation where the athletes are happy, engaged, confident, motivated, and excited about each training opportunity there is a greater likelihood that they will take this same energy into competition. If the athletes head into competition happy, engaged, confident, motivated, and excited then they stand a greater chance of achieving their performance goals.

Coaches are encouraged to assess the culture within their groups and teams. Reflect on what appears to be the driving behaviors and attitudes that exist. Are these positive or negative and if negative how can they be shifted towards more beneficial characteristics. While every culture is unique it is important that the culture be conducive to the attainment of specific goals and desires that exists for the group/team.

Here are some suggested readings that could benefit you in the development of your group/team culture:

James, K. (2013). Legacy. London, GB: Constable

Gordon, J. (2007). The Energy Bus. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons Inc.

Gordon, J. (2008). The No Complaining Rule. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons Inc.

Gordon, J. (2009). Training Camp. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons Inc.

Gordon, J. (2010). Soup. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons Inc.

Gordon, J. (2015). The Hard Hat. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons Inc.

Gordon, J. & Smith, M. (2015). You Win in the Locker Room First. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons Inc.

This article is the first of a monthly segment called Coaches Connect. Ideas for future topics and individuals who would like to contribute to the monthly segment are encouraged to contact Coaching Education Director Jason Reindl at

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