Tag Archive for team culture

The cultural risks in taking over a new program late

An article on LinkedIn talks about what the author describes as “Second Year Syndrome”. It’s got a clear objective to get consulting business, but nevertheless brings up interesting points. Specifically, it looks at something that can happen when a new coaching staff takes over a team right before the season. The focus is on when the prior staff is fired. I think, though, there are parallels for a voluntary departure.

The reason the author focuses on the “fired” situation is culture. Here’s what she says.

“When a coach is hired close to the start of their season they do not have the time they need to develop the relationships necessary to accurately assess the team culture.”

This is certainly true. I’ve been in this situation a couple of times. Not following a fired head coach, but nevertheless taking over a team with no clear sense of the culture. That’s how it was my first year at Exeter. The same was true at Svedala.

The first season

I previously shared some thoughts on working with a new team from a session of the 2013 AVCA Convention. Culture did not specifically come up by name, but developing trust was. I think, whatever the situation, that’s key. No matter the culture you take over (and the assumption is when following a fired staff that it’s bad), trust is critical.

The challenge when taking over a team late like that is you tend to have a lot on your plate. You’re trying to learn all the in’s and out’s of the new program. You’re trying to figure out the strengths and weaknesses of your team. Chances are you don’t have a lot of time before competitive matches start, so you’ve got that to worry about as well. It’s very easy to forget the culture stuff. The article points out that this cannot be the case.

Here’s the thing, though. As the culture chapter from Volleyball Coaching Wizards – Wizard Wisdom indicates, culture is in everything you do. That includes what you do on the court in practice. It’s all about having the proper awareness of the work you do.

Heading into the second year

The idea in the article of the “Second Year Syndrome” concept is what happens if you don’t get a good handle on the team culture in the first year. Basically, the author believes the opportunity might be gone. She says outside help is probably the only way out in that case. But then she’s a coaching consultant, so of course she says that.

Will some outside help work? It might. Problem is actually getting it. Not always easy to find someone with the availability to spend the time and the observational skills to provide meaningful insights.

So what if you don’t have an outside perspective?

Not much choice. You just have to do the work. Keep getting to know the players and developing trust. Get rid of the players who won’t go along with the new program. Continue ingraining the culture you want in everything you do. Read the chapter from the Wizards book I mentioned above. It will for sure give you something to think about.

The source of team culture

One of Luke Thomas’ blog posts got me thinking about the source of team culture. Luke’s perspective is that for his team(s) the culture comes from him. I certainly agree that the coach should reflect the team culture. I’m not sure whether they are necessarily the source of that culture, though.

Recruited team or built program

I think in the case of a recruited team, one can probably say more surely that the coach defines the culture. After all, the coach selects the players. Presumably, those players reflect the type of team that coach wants.

Even there, though, I’m not sure you can say only the coach dictates culture. Certainly the coach can (and probably should) influence it. This is even more strongly the case for something like a high school team where it is a coach working with youth. I think, though, that the collective personality of the team will have some influence. So too may elements of the broader organization or community in which the team operates. It may not be the dominant one, but it at least factors in to the equation.

The now retired John Dunning shared some thoughts on developing and maintaining team culture from this perspective. The clip below is from an interview I did with him.

Unrecruited or built team

The other situation is where you coach a team that you didn’t build yourself. That could be a team already formed when you take over. It could also be a team you selected through a tryout process. Yes, in the latter case you did pick the team. But you only did so from a given pool of players.

In this sort of situation – especially when we’re talking non-youth teams – I feel like a lot of the team culture must come from the players. They need to be part of defining how they train and play and otherwise operate. You may be able to enforce a culture from a top down perspective, but it takes a lot of respect and credibility. You won’t get a cohesive culture if you don’t have player buy-in.

Seen it both ways

I’ve been in both situations. I’ve worked in college programs where we recruited players. There the primary culture is mainly dictated by the coach, especially if they have been there for a while. Returning players help to enforce the existing culture as new players are added each year. Even in this situation, though, you sometime have to adapt. Players change. The local environment can play a big part. Sometimes that’s consistent. Sometimes it changes.

I’ve also been in a situation where I’ve had to adapt myself to a team culture. Yes, I influenced a lot of things on-court. We trained the way I decided we trained and I set the expectations – at least initially. Off the court, though, the players were the bigger determinant of culture. I wouldn’t go along with things that I objected too, but otherwise I adapted myself to the situation.

So what’s your view? Where does/should team culture come from?

See also Creating a Culture of Success.

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