A couple of articles out of New Zealand a while back caught my attention. They have as their focus Hugh McCutcheon. For those who don’t know, he’s a Kiwi who coached the USA national team in two Olympics and then took over the University of Minnesota program. He has since retired from active coaching. His book, Championship Behaviours, is worth a read.

One article relates to Hugh helping out the NZ federation in a push to develop more female volleyball coaches.* Apparently, there was a growth surge in girls playing volleyball in the island nation, which was certainly good to hear. If nothing else, that would help develop more female coaches. It will likely take at least a generation to have a meaningful influence, though. Given the trials and tribulations of trying to encourage and sustain women in volleyball coaching in the US and elsewhere, it might be interesting to follow how things go.

Of perhaps more interest from a coaching perspective, however, is the other article which focuses on team culture. In it Hugh talks about making a series of changes to how things operated at Minnesota when he took over. Some were akin to ones we brought in during my time at Exeter. To be honest, a couple of them surprised me. Not that the change was made, but that they weren’t in place already.

As the article notes, making changes at that level is likely to cause some issues. In this case it saw several players decide they no longer wanted to be part of the team. From Hugh’s perspective that was fine because it essentially saw those who would likely not go along with what he was trying to do self-select themselves out. The challenge, however, can be dealing with external expectations while going through the likely rough patch while implementing changes.

The article actually got me thinking about the sort of things I might have to do in taking over a new program as a head coach – or working as an assistant with a new head coach.

Have you ever had to put through a cultural change? If so, what was it and how did you go about doing so?

* There’s some inflation with respect to a couple of stats in the article. The U.S. doesn’t have 15,000 volleyball scholarship athletes – at least not ones on full or near full scholarships.

There are about 1700 women’s collegiate volleyball programs. Division III teams account for nearly 540 of them. There are no athletic scholarships at that level. NCAA Division I teams can have no more than 12 players on scholarship. That does not mean, however, every school has 12 players on full scholarships. NCAA Division II programs are allowed 8 full scholarships, which they generally split up (no limit as to how many players may be on scholarship). If the NJCAA Division I and II follow the same rules, and NAIA and the remainder of the 2-year schools also have 12 scholarships, it adds up to about 12,700 total full scholarships available at the very maximum.

Many schools, though, don’t offer the full number of scholarships. I suspect in reality the number of full scholarships available is below 10,000. That said, many of them are split up to provide multiple partial scholarships.

The idea that sand volleyball will get to 10,000 scholarship athletes any time soon is massively optimistic. Keep in mind that only 10 players compete for a school’s team in any given event. You’d need all 10 on scholarship at 1000 schools (or say 20 at 500), not counting ones on indoor scholarships, to hit 10k.

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John Forman
John Forman

John is currently the Talent Strategy Manager (oversees the national teams) and Indoor Performance Director for Volleyball England, as well as Global Director for Volleyball for Nation Academy. His volleyball coaching experience includes all three NCAA divisions, plus Junior College, in the US; university and club teams in the UK; professional coaching in Sweden; and both coaching and club management at the Juniors level. He's also been a visiting coach at national team, professional club, and juniors programs in several countries. Learn more on his bio page.

    1 Response to "Making a cultural change"

    • Matt Smith

      “To do so he made four behaviours compulsory: being on time, going to study hall, not wearing jewellery to practise and everyone wearing the same team colours to training.”

      The compulsory behaviors were in place prior to his hire. Hugh threw those out the door upon his arrival. The team functioned okay for a year and then it ran-a-muck internally; he re- instituted a few of the compulsory behaviors and now elevates himself as a change agent. It is an interesting trend of his. Not a fan.

Please share your own ideas and opinions.