A strong culture requires trust and chemistry among all the team members. As coaches, we usually think of this in terms of our athletes. We look at team-building as something they do, as opposed to something we do.
If you’re trying to maximize the potential of your athletes, the coaching staff must be a cohesive unit that’s on the same page. You can’t expect our athletes to trust one another, communicate effectively with one another, or support one another if you’re not doing that as well.
There are five ways that coaches build staff chemistry and gain each other’s trust:
- Taking ‘head coach level’ ownership
- Do your job well
- Complete assessments together
- Breakdown your communication
- Be part of team-building activities
Each of these five strategies have unique angles to them — providing food for thought as you develop a better culture for your program.
Taking ‘Head Coach Level’ Ownership
You’ll never build a strong culture without your athletes taking ownership in the process. Similarly, your culture will suffer if your staff is not fully invested in the process too. You’re all in this together.
Certainly, the head coach sets the tone in this area and needs to empower the staff. However, you need to think like a head coach and mimic their ownership of the process. Take responsibility for what is happening in your program before you reach the point where it actually falls on you.
As a young assistant, I stayed up late at night writing on yellow legal pads. I would come up with answers to various situations our team was facing. Our head coach was already a Hall of Fame coach, but I wanted to give him any (and every) idea I could think of. I didn’t want to put everything on his shoulders and sit by hoping he came up with the right solution. I wanted to do my part.
You win together.
You lose together.
You celebrate successes together.
You overcome challenges together.
I know a head coach of a high school basketball team that volunteered to be the assistant football coach so that his athletes and fellow coaches could see he was willing to serve in whatever way benefitted the athletic department. He wanted to build relationships outside of his sport – not only with the athletes but his staff, as well.
The best programs have assistant coaches who think like head coaches. This is more likely to happen when the head coach empowers the staff. Head coaches should provide opportunities for assistants to grow, plan, and lead. Head coaches should allow assistants to run meetings, provide input, or handle important tasks.
Likewise, assistant coaches should look for ways to expand their skill set and become more valuable to the program. That might include driving another coach someplace as a way of being helpful or just spending additional time getting to know each other. These things help.
The best programs have coaches thinking collectively as opposed to “me”, “my”, “mine”, “they”, “their”, or “them”. When you have a personal stake in the program and its future, you tend to take responsibility for every decision, action, and result. This gradual process is what paves the way for increasing trust between you and the other coaches.
Do Your Job Well
When you’re good at what you do, you earn the trust of others. Nobody will disagree with that, but you need to spend some time thinking through what an undeniably good job looks like. You don’t always put our best foot forward. If you’re not at your best, the entire team can suffer and fail to maximize their potential.
Here are a few ways to become more competent in your role:
- Prepare – The legendary basketball coach John Wooden was famous for preparing just as long for a practice as that session would last. He was adamant about details. Attention to detail and being prepared makes you more efficient and effective.
- Professional Development – Is a conference or clinic helpful? Yes… but you can develop in smaller ways. Reading this article is a form of professional development. Watching a video on YouTube can make you better. Reading a recommended book can provide new insights. You must refuse to neglect your growth. Leaders are learners.
- Consultants – Bringing people in to speak on various topics can open your mind and expand your talents as a coach. It’s easy to get stuck in a rut and start seeing only your tree and not the whole forest. You can’t always see the picture when you’re inside the frame so use an outsider to become better in certain areas.
- Chalk Talks – Have chalk talks, mini-clinics, or brain-storming sessions periodically. This helps you stay sharp, and also brings new ideas to the forefront. It stimulates your thoughts and gets your mind percolating.
You can also help each other become better (if you’re part of a staff). A healthy culture doesn’t have individuals on an island. We all have strengths and weaknesses. We all have unique backgrounds or experiences. A rising tide lifts all ships — you grow as a group.
As a coach, you need an abundance mentality (as opposed to a scarcity mentality). There are enough resources, successes, and praise for everyone to share. Learn from one another, and help others as you grow too.
Complete Assessments Together
When people understand each other, they begin to connect with each other. As you learn more about each other – how you think, where you’ve come from, what’s important to you, your hopes, dreams, and fears – you’ll develop stronger bonds with the other coaches on your staff.
Need something besides the usual chat after practice on the way to the car? Take an assessment together as a staff. There are plenty of options available (Myers-Briggs, Clifton Strengths Finder, DISC), but the specific assessment isn’t nearly as important as the discussion and feedback that follows.
There are surveys with the coaches and student-athletes in TheLeadershipPlaybook.com membership community that have gotten positive feedback on the usefulness and benefits. These surveys cover the full gamut and provide opportunities to see growth when it comes to a team member’s understanding of leadership, teamwork, culture, and other sport-specific areas.
Breakdown Your Communication
George Bernard Shaw once said, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” As coaches we communicate all the time. We’re constantly talking, but are we really communicating in a healthy and effective way?
Your communication with other coaches is most effective when it’s:
- Clear (to them, not just you)
Sometimes, your tone or non-verbals can betray the words coming out of your mouth and communicate a different story. Here are some of the best things you can do when it comes to communicating clearly with other coaches:
- Listen – You don’t learn when you talk — learn to listen and listen to learn. This is one of the best ways to understand another person’s point of view and perspective.
- Ask questions – Leaders are learners and one of the best ways to learn is by asking questions. These need to be curious in nature, not accusatory or threatening. You can’t build relationships when acting hostile. Asking questions the right way not only helps you learn, but also makes the other person feel valued. That’s a major trust-builder.
- Don’t criticize – Whether it’s head coach to assistant coach, assistant-to-assistant, or assistant-to-athlete, criticizing in public rarely creates the best outcome. It makes trust-building with other coaches and athletes difficult when they realize it could be them you criticize next. Remember — your goal should always be to have accurate, productive, relevant, and clear communication.
- Acknowledge – You often think about how you can praise your athletes, but you don’t always think about doing that with your fellow staff members. “That was a great scouting report, Coach”, “I love that idea”, “Nice job getting X ready”, or “Thanks for bringing the energy today, Coach” are just a few examples you can use to inspire other acknowledgments that are more genuine for your situation. This is contagious and before long, all team members (coaches and athletes) will encourage each other positively.
To properly communicate with another person, you have to convey the right message in the right way and then it must be interpreted in the way we intended.
Be Part of Team-Building Activities
Team-building activities can benefit your staff as coaches just as much as your athletes. The more team members that come together in unity of purpose, the stronger your culture becomes.
Have a purpose with your team-building activities (e.g. goal-setting, chemistry, instructional, connecting, community service, etc.) but remember to have fun. Engaged and inspired team members always accomplish more.
Typically, team-building sessions are for the athletes, and coaches tend to take a step back. However, this limits your culture’s potential. Your ceiling is much higher when everyone is growing together and operating on the same page.
Find reasons to have fun team-building activities that also incorporate all team members (athletes, coaches, support staff, family). It’s also a good idea to do separate activities, workshops, or retreats for just the staff. These are great planning opportunities, but are also good for debriefing, reviewing, and refocusing.
Additionally, you can also look to involve your families, whether it’s a cookout, holiday party, or day at the beach. The more you enjoy one another’s company as a coaching staff, the more likely you are to build a level of trust that affects the on-field outcome.
Building a strong culture requires team members to trust one another. For this to happen, you need a win-win mentality. It’s not us versus them. It’s not a zero-sum game. It’s not transactional. It’s not manipulative.
Trust can transform a group of individuals into a team. Simon Sinek says, “A team is not a group of people that merely work together. A team is a group of people that trust each other.”
This doesn’t just apply to your athletes, but to your staff as coaches.
When you trust each other as coaches, you model the standard and create an example for your athletes to follow. When you show your athletes how to trust, respect, and come together, they’ll start to trust, respect, and come together.
Your staff wins. Your athletes win. Your culture wins.
Win. Win. Win.
Jamy Bechler is the author of four books including The Captain and The Bus Trip, host of the Success is a Choice Podcast, professional speaker, and trains organizations on creating championship cultures. He previously spent 20 years as a college basketball coach and administrator. The Leadership Playbook is Bechler’s online program that helps athletes become better teammates and more positive leaders while strengthening culture. As a certified John Maxwell leadership coach, Bechler has worked with businesses and teams, including the NBA. Follow him on Twitter at @CoachBechler. To connect via email or find out about his services, contact speaking@CoachBechler.com. Subscribe to his insights on success and leadership by clicking here.