Any coach can claim they know how to win, or that they know how to get the best out of their players. Any coach can brag about their resume with conference championships, state championships, national championships, All-American players, and the like. But it takes a better coach than most to create a winning atmosphere surrounding a program – that culture of excellence that raises the standards for everybody involved, whether they like it or not.How does one define a “culture of excellence?” It might be defined by past history or tradition. A team historically has always been near the top of the standings, so they expect to be there every year. It might be defined by an attitude – the feeling amongst players and staff members that nobody can outwork us, nobody can meet our standards, and nobody strives for perfection like we do.Definitions on paper are easy. Execution and creation of this “culture” are far harder concepts to grasp. However, I’ll offer my opinion on how to create it. Be mindful that I’m not a volleyball person, and by trade I’m actually a baseball coach. However, the team I coached had this culture about them, and it made us a top-flight team each year I was there.
Step one – Set the standards high. And that means high standards for everything you do. Standards for student-athletes have to start in the classroom. I believe each student-athlete must maintain a minimum GPA, and most schools have rules to this effect. But if your school’s minimum GPA is a 2.00, make your team rule a 2.25.
Set high standards in practice. Every time you touch a ball, a bat, or anything related to your sport, it’s not only a privilege, but an honor, and you need to cherish that time. You have precious little time in your life to play sport, and to excel at it means you must put that time to great use.
Step two – Outwork the competition. I grow tired of teams or players bragging about how hard they worked in the offseason, how hard they worked in the summer, and how dedicated they are. Guess what? MOST OF YOUR OPPONENTS ARE DOING THE EXACT SAME THING YOU ARE. You worked hard in the summer? Great. Did you work harder than your opponent? You won your league last year … did you work harder in the offseason than the opponent who finished second? If you did, you’re on your way to creating that culture of excellence. If you didn’t, good luck winning the league again.
Step three – Install confidence in everybody around you. As a coach, you’re looked at to have the master plan, to know what to do in all situations. But when you’re up 14-13 in the fifth set and your opponent’s rattled off 3 straight points, sometimes answers escape even the best of coaches. That doesn’t mean you have to show it. Be confident in your team outwardly, even if you’re not inwardly. Particularly, I think, with female athletes, this is a huge point. When an athlete knows his/her coach has confidence in them, they’re more likely to have confidence in themselves.
Step four – Hold everybody accountable – including yourself. You hold athletes accountable for getting better each day, valuing their time at practice or in games, and making the most of their time on a particular team or at a particular school. Coaches MUST do the same. You must get better each day as well. No coach knows everything. No coach has all the answers. But every coach must be adaptable, must be a learner, and must be a student of their game. If you aren’t, you’re not going to get very far.
Step five – Expect to win. This plays off the point about confidence in step three. But you cannot go into a game or a match expecting to lose. You just CANNOT do it. I’m convinced athletes feed off that in their coaches. You can play the underdog card with your team, telling them that nobody else expects to win – but when you play that card, you have to emphasize that YOU fully expect them to win. Practice like a winner, work like a winner, and play like a winner, and chances are, you’ll be a winner.
Step six – Never be satisfied with where you’re at. NEVER. Never be comfortable. Just won a league title? Great. Go get the state title. Just beat the first place team in your league? Great. Beat them again the next time you play them too, except by a bigger margin. Because…do you know what happens when teams are never satisfied, or when coaches are never satisfied? They work HARDER, and they get BETTER.
There’s a reason that certain teams in certain sports are traditional powerhouses. They all have something in common – that “culture of excellence.” The New England Patriots, the New York Yankees, the Boston Red Sox, the Green Bay Packers, to name a few … they all have it. They all expect to win day in and day out. And having never watched a single practice from any of those teams, I guarantee they practice like champions as well. They work hard, they take pride in what they do, and they are never satisfied with where they’re at. Those attributes lead to a culture of excellence.