By Scott Rosberg
Have you ever been part of a great team? What made it that way? Was there a special bond among teammates? Was it a place of high energy and strong trust? Did you win a lot? For most of us who have been on some great teams in our lives, the answer to those questions is usually a resounding “Yes!”
Often the next question is, “Why don’t all teams end up being great?” It can't be only about winning because not all great teams win all the time. Of all the questions listed above, the concept of winning a lot is not necessarily at the top of the list when it comes to memories of being on a great team. Many people will look back on some of the teams they considered as being great and realize that they didn’t win a championship or even win a lot of games. Some of the greatest teams in the true concept of a great team were teams that did not win a lot of games.
So, if winning a lot of contests is not the #1 pre-requisite for a team being great, why don’t great teams happen more often? I believe everything starts with the leadership. In sports, that person is the coach. That may seem like a lot of pressure to put on one person, especially given the fact that when we are talking about youth/school teams, we are talking about the skill levels, mental capacities, behaviors, mood swings, etc. of children and teenagers. How can we put all the blame/praise on the coach when there are so many variables in any given team situation.
It all starts with the coach because if the coach is intentional about trying to create a great team culture and experience for the kids, the chances are much greater that it will end up that way. Coaches who are intentional about what they want to see happen have more success at seeing their goals come true. That does not mean that it is a guarantee, but they certainly create a situation that is much more apt to come true if they are intentional about it.
Unfortunately, most teams in the world happen by accident. The culture and the experience are left to chance. There is no vision, no plan, & no roadmap for getting to wherever they are seeking to get. The team wanders through the season hoping that it will be a good experience. They let the ups and downs and the ebb and flow of the season dictate whether or not the experience is a positive one.
Oh sure, many coaches (and team leaders and team members) will talk about wanting to win whatever championship is the ultimate for their team and set that as their goal. However, goals like that create a focus on a result—a result that has many variables that could create that result or keep it from happening. Focusing only on results creates a lot more pressure. While it is at least giving them a direction to go, focusing on a result means that there is only one way to succeed—achieve that one result.
The better method is to focus on creating the culture that you would like to have in your program. Focus on your team’s standards, your guiding principles. Bruce Brown of Proactive Coaching calls these a team’s Core Covenants. In his booklet and presentation, "First Steps to Successful Teams" (https://proactivecoaching.info/) Coach Brown says a covenant is “a binding agreement where action is physically visible. This takes the agreement beyond words to an actual vision of performance. It says, ‘This is what we believe, so therefore, this is what you will see.’”
The best covenants are focused on behavioral characteristics. When a team sets up covenants for behavior within the program, they are creating the culture that they seek. By focusing on behavioral characteristics, these teams are zeroing in on things they have control over – not results and outcomes that have all kinds of variables that influence them.
For example, if a team establishes “Team-First Attitude” as a covenant, everyone on that team can make the choice to be committed to being a great teammate. There is no pre-requisite skill, training, education, physical attribute, etc. necessary to be able to display a team-first attitude. Every single person in the program can have a team-first attitude. The same goes for work ethic, teachable spirit, discipline, mental toughness, integrity, and any other behavioral characteristic one can think of. Every player in a program can commit to and live every single one of those kinds of characteristics with nothing more than acting and behaving in the proper way.
If a coach (or leader of any kind of team) is intentional about establishing covenants, s/he creates a much more favorable chance of having them be lived in her or his program or organization. But it takes work. Developing covenants with the leadership of the team, explaining them to the entire team, taking time to discuss them and work on them throughout the year, and doing all that they can to live the covenants must be intentionally and purposefully developed by the coach. It is a process, and the process takes time and effort.
But if creating a great team and team experience for the team members is the goal, there is no clearer, better, more consistent and predictable way to achieve it than to work through this process with determination and purpose. Coaches who do this in an intentional fashion create a team environment of success and excellence. One major by-product of intentionally focusing on creating this type of culture is that these teams also have a much better chance of creating scoreboard success, too. And they are on their way to intentionally creating the great team experience that everyone wants to be a part of.
In the next column, I will go into some more detail on the concept of Core Covenants. I will also tell you about the covenants that the team members and coaches in our Park High Boys' Basketball Program have come up with for this year, why we chose them, and how we plan on teaching, instilling, and living by them.