Team culture defines a team's identity, and it can really limit a team's success. Strength and conditioning is an important component of a team's culture. Besides the fitness aspect, strength and conditioning helps to mold a team's identity and its ability to work together. It does this by creating shared experiences for the team, developing an athletic work ethic, and demanding discipline and accountability.
Strength and conditioning is about more than working out. That's why simply liking to work out won't make you a good strength and conditioning coach. As a strength and conditioning coach, you have to be able to enhance a "team."
To me, four pillars of a successful team are:
- Work Ethic
Accountability is the idea that we are responsible for our actions. This is essential to a successful team. Athletes have to understand and own their actions. This is the only way they can learn from mistakes. This means that coaches need to help athletes understand when they've made a mistake and give them a chance to learn and grow from it. It also means that coaches have to model accountability. Coaches make mistakes too, and they have to own and learn from their mistakes rather than pass the buck.
In the strength and conditioning setting, accountability can be pretty straightforward. Did you move the weights or not? Were you on time or not? Was your conduct in the weight room appropriate? Did you perform the exercises correctly? These are all opportunities that strength and conditioning coaches have to teach the concept of accountability. For each of these, athletes need to be held accountable and given the opportunity to learn.
Discipline encompasses the team acting in an orderly, rule-following, morally correct way. This is a standard that is set by the coach. The coach sets rules and expectations, then holds athletes to observe and fulfill them, with consequences and praise. Coaches get into trouble with this when they have exceptions for their expectations.
For example, everyone has to be on time for a meeting except the star athlete. When a coach grants an exception, the culture begins to break down, which shows itself in poor attendance at practice, lack of respect for the coaching staff and each other, failing to take practice seriously and having a poor attitude during games.
The strength and conditioning setting is a great place to teach the concept of discipline. Are the athletes on time for the session? What happens if they are late? Are athletes expected to dress for strength and conditioning in a certain way? What happens if they don't? Are they expected to rack their weights when they're done? Again, what happens if they don't? Should they treat the coaches a certain way? The list of opportunities to create an orderly, rule-following, moral culture are endless in the strength and conditioning setting.
Work ethic refers to how much effort athletes put into practice and games. Are athletes trying, doing their best, or are they just going through the motions? This is also set by the coach. Does the coach take practices and training seriously? Are they really stressed, or is the coach just going through the motions? One way that coaches can set this expectation is by rewarding effort. For example, do the athletes who consistently show up and train hard get playing time? When the star athlete does not buy into this and is rewarded for a lack of effort, this sabotages the importance of work ethic.
The strength and conditioning setting should enhance an athlete's work ethic. Do athletes show up for training? Do they put in effort or just go through the motions? Are they present for 6 a.m. conditioning sessions when it's cold outside? If they cannot be relied upon to do these things, how can their teammates count on them in the fourth quarter?
Sports, especially team sports, are about serving something larger than yourself. Your individual efforts may help your team win, but only if you work together with the rest of the team. There are times when you have to take a lesser role so that your team can perform better. There are also times when you have to step up and do more than you thought you could for your team to perform better. One of the worst mistakes a coach can make is to glorify individual efforts. These successes should be acknowledged, but they should not be rewarded with trophies, stickers, medals, etc. Why? Because this sends the message that individual accomplishments are more important than team accomplishments, and this can be destructive to a team's functioning.
Much of setting a team's culture is about the coach. The coach sets the expectations and must model them. Athletes can always detect fakes. Having said that, coaches can also destroy a team's culture by making exceptions. When we expect different things from second stringers than we do of the starters, we are going to have a problem. So in addition to setting expectations and modeling them, coaches have to be consistent in their expectations and apply them uniformly to everyone.