Basketball player driving for a layup

Winning is a Team Effort

Winning is a Team Effort
January 10, 2022 | Andre Harakas | 13 min read

Team sports are seldom won or lost on the strength of a single player; even the most gifted athletes need the support of their teammates. Basketball teams, for example, need players who can not only score but also rebound, block, and assist. This culture of cooperation is essential for success on the court or on the sports field, but it doesn’t start there. Coaches and athletic directors do, in fact, build a team culture behind the scenes, which influences how players interact with one another during games.

There are several instances of teams that have succeeded as a result of fostering cohesive team chemistry. Consider the Navarro College Bulldogs, a competitive cheering squad featured in Netflix’s Cheer documentary. Every practice, viewers can observe the Bulldogs increasing their confidence in one another and their respect for each athlete’s effort. Consider the New England Patriots, a dominant NFL team known for retaining a strong sense of camaraderie despite roster changes.

These two teams are just two instances of how important it is for coaches to work with their players to build a team culture. We’ll look at what this entails and how it can be accomplished in this post.

Creating a Team Culture

It’s crucial to start with a clear description of team culture. What precisely do coaches and athletic directors mean when they speak about developing a team culture?

What Does It Mean to Create a Team Culture?

Any sports team (like every corporation) has a culture: the values, beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors that determine how team members interact with one another. It is possible for a culture to be either good or bad.

Individuals are motivated to share a same aim or mission with their team members and work together to achieve shared goals, which is termed as a team culture.

The Advantages of Creating a Team Culture

A strong team culture is important to coaches and athletic directors for a variety of reasons. In the following sections, we’ll go through a few of the most important advantages.


When a good team culture is in place, it not only establishes a shared purpose, but it also demonstrates how each person’s specific qualities and abilities contribute to that goal. A great team culture appreciates everyone’s worth, rather than creating a dynamic in which just a few superstars shine.


Teams with a strong feeling of belonging have stronger morale. The reason for this is because everyone on the team feels like they’re a part of something larger and sees a chance to help others.


Another advantage of a healthy team culture is that it motivates players to give it their all. A team culture gives advice and incentive for athletes to accomplish their best job by clearly identifying a goal and describing how each athlete contributes to that objective.


Tension, misunderstandings, and damaged sentiments may occur on any team. When a strong team culture exists, it creates a framework for constructively addressing these difficulties. It enables the coach to return to the common objective and remind the players that they are all there to help each other achieve it.

Coaches and Athletic Directors’ Roles in Sports Team Culture

In sports, both coaches and athletic directors play an important role in forming a team culture.

The Coach’s Function

Coaches may seek a team culture in a variety of ways. One strategy is to let things happen naturally, beginning with the participants. Many coaches choose to get out of the way and let their players figure out how to take a team-centered approach on their own. The main advantage is that, if it succeeds, athletes will feel more ownership over the culture they’ve built.

However, there is a major danger associated with this strategy. Occasionally, a small group of players may be very pushy or aggressive, attempting to define the culture while excluding certain teammates in the process. In certain cases, the coach’s “organic” approach might backfire, leading to tense or toxic team chemistry.

Another option is for coaches to take an active but non-dominant role, leading by example and providing advice while still enabling players to participate in the process. During workouts and huddles, for example, coaches may openly discuss the team’s objectives, vision, attitudes, and expectations. They work with players to develop a team culture in this manner. Coaches must also set an example for their players. This entails having a clear understanding of the kind of cultural values they want to see and living out those values at all times.

To establish a successful team, trust must be built regardless of how a culture develops. Players must believe that they can rely on each other and their coach for support, and they must strive to achieve shared objectives. Coaches have the most day-to-day involvement with their players, therefore this is a critical job for them.

The Athletic Director’s Function

Coaches obviously play a significant part in developing a team’s culture in sports, but they often do so under the supervision of an athletic director. Although the athletic director may not have as much direct contact with athletes as the coach, it is the athletic director’s responsibility to properly communicate the program’s principles.

Indeed, it is hard to discuss culture without considering values; culture is made up of several values that team members share, and these values may have a good or bad impact on team cohesiveness.

Coaches instill in their athletes the ideals of hard effort, collaboration, and high standards, while athletic directors do the same for their coaching staff. Athletic directors must establish clear objectives for their coaches and hold them to high standards. This might include mentorship and professional development for coaches.

Another crucial characteristic for healthy team growth is leadership. An athletic director is in a unique position to display great leadership abilities and give opportunity for both coaches and athletes to develop their leadership skills. These abilities should be cultivated not just on the field, but also in the classroom and in the community.

Athletic directors are likewise well-positioned to emphasize the importance of diversity. It’s more difficult to develop innovative answers to challenges and actually flourish when everyone on the coaching staff and the larger team has the same viewpoint. A competent athletic director will aggressively recruit members of the athletic department, coaching staff, and athletes from a variety of backgrounds.

Finally, when it comes to instilling values and setting expectations for their athletes, coaches should keep one eye on the team’s success and the other on what happens when they graduate. Coaches may prepare their athletes for further success in college or graduate school, their professional life, and their personal lives by training them how to be team players, leaders, and react to failure and adversity.

Practical advice and several tactics may be useful in this situation at your discretion.

Determine your objectives and values.

If culture is shaped by agreed upon aims and values, one of the most crucial stages is to clearly define those goals and values.

Of all, the main aim for most sports teams is to win games. As a result, teams may create a number of supplementary goals to assist them in achieving their common aims. For instance, a club that has had trouble scoring may set a target of increasing its per-game average by ten points. A team with a clear star player could establish a goal to improve the inclusion of its supporting players. Other objectives might be connected to sportsmanship and attitude; for example, coaches and players could agree that they all need to focus on being more gracious victors or showing greater respect for other teams.

There are a few ways for determining these aims and values. A coach may choose to impose these aims and ideals on the players or enable them to come up with their own. The optimal way is often somewhere in the middle—a collaborative approach in which the coach leads but players have a chance to speak out.

Coaches may find it helpful to put down the aims and values that the players have agreed upon, either on a whiteboard, a sign in the locker room, or in the players’ handbooks, which may be vital for developing team culture.

Establish clear guidelines for team behavior.

Individual conduct is just as essential as goals and objectives in building a team culture. As a result, it’s important for coaches to clearly define what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable conduct for team members.

The way players interact with one other, rival team members, officials, and boosters are all examples of how expectations are created. It should cover both during and after games, as well as during and after practice.

The following are some examples of expectations that coaches may set:

Defining how players should connect with their opponents (handshakes after games, for instance)

Clarifying practice tardiness and absence regulations, as well as highlighting the necessity of all team members turning up to perform their share.

Keeping track of the kind of actions that aren’t accepted during sessions, such as bullying or nasty name-calling.

The stated policies of the school sports department often govern the expectations for athlete conduct. Again, the athletic director’s opinion is valuable.

Through addition, it’s a good idea to make sure that expectations are clearly written down and made accessible to players, such as in player handbooks or a code of conduct. Coaches must guarantee that there is no opportunity for ambiguity or misinterpretation.

Be kind and open with student-athletes.

Empathy and honesty in all of their contacts with players is another crucial step for coaches aiming to establish team cultures.

Empathy is important because players and coaches must support one another in a team culture. On the court or on the field, players must believe that they are watching out for each other and that they have each other’s backs. Coaching is the first step. Coaches must demonstrate that they understand and care for their players while they cope with academic difficulties, domestic problems, injuries, and other setbacks.

Transparency is the final piece of the puzzle. Again, it boils down to a matter of trust. Coaches must develop a tone of straightforward, honest communication for players to feel comfortable trusting and being open with one another. Coaches and players should be able to communicate openly with one another, without sugarcoating issues, and be able to collaborate to discover solutions.

Designate Team Leaders

Coaches must set an example and keep players responsible to the agreed-upon standard, but they cannot do it alone. As a result, they should seek out players with leadership potential and appoint them to assist in maintaining the team’s culture.

The idea isn’t to get team members to act as whistleblowers, reporting on players who break the team’s code of conduct. The objective, on the other hand, is to identify team members who can serve as ambassadors for the club’s cultural values, embodying them and spreading excitement.

Coaches may look for players who have a natural affinity for collaboration or who demonstrate an early interest in the team’s objectives, values, and behavioral standards. Coaches should also look for players who are liked and respected by the rest of the squad.

Recognize Teaching Opportunities

Finding instructional moments and using them to improve team cohesiveness is a final method for coaches trying to establish a team culture in sports.

The fact is that all players will sometimes fall short of their own aims, ideals, and expectations. While it may be essential for coaches to take disciplinary action in response to these errors (particularly if the code of conduct requires it), they should strive to establish an atmosphere that values failure as an opportunity for learning and development rather than a punishment.

When individual players fall short, this may include meeting with them individually to discuss the situation and setting specific objectives and plans to help them get back on track. However, if the whole team falls short, it may be necessary to discuss adjusting or changing the objectives and expectations that have been stated.

Inspiring Sports Quotes about Team Culture

The significance of constructing a team culture is not new; in fact, many of history’s most successful sportsmen have understood the value of establishing and maintaining a team culture. The following sections include a few notable quotes on sports team culture.

Michael Jordan has long been regarded as one of the greatest sportsmen of all time, having won six NBA championship rings. Jordan claims that:

“Talent wins games, but championships are won by collaboration and intellect.”

Coming from such a legendary figure, the phrase is a big assertion. He claims that although a talented person may achieve some success, only teams that collaborate in a smart, coherent manner can go all the way.

Vince Lombardi is a legendary football coach.

Vince Lombardi, the legendary NFL coach, was a firm believer in the importance of collaboration. He once said,

“What makes a cooperation, a corporation work, a society function, a civilisation operate is individual devotion to a collaborative endeavor.”

To put it another way, each participant is accountable for making an effort, but those efforts must all be directed toward common goals. Otherwise, players are merely operating in opposition to one another.

Here’s a comment from Phil Jackson, who coached Jordan to all six NBA titles and then became the head coach of the Los Angeles Lakers:

“Each individual member is the team’s strength. The team is the power of each individual.”

Jackson believes that each team member should be as powerful and competent as possible, but that the whole team should work together.

Finally, consider the comments of Billy Martin, a baseball player who went on to manage a club after achieving success on the field. Martin claims that:

“There’s nothing better than when someone on the squad achieves something excellent and everyone comes around to congratulate him.”

The phrase demonstrates how a positive team culture may improve player morale.

A Successful Team Culture

Coaches and athletic directors are both important in establishing a sports team culture and preparing student-athletes for success on and off the field. Identifying the values and objectives that may support a truly team-based atmosphere, one that motivates all players to put out their best effort in pursuit of a shared goal, is a crucial beginning step. Coaches should utilize their everyday interactions with players to model good conduct and stress how the values they acquire will benefit them both on and off the field. Much may be done by athletic directors and coaches to define standards, codify ideals, and lead by example in order to create an atmosphere where coaches and players alike are brought together in a spirit of collaboration.

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