Changing team culture one player at a time

The most talented team is not always the winning team. A team’s culture will greatly influence their performance. If the team doesn’t mesh, they will struggle.

A single player has the ability to change the culture of the whole team. Oftentimes, the coach must be selective when bringing in new athletes. One unmanaged, misfit personality can send the whole team into chaos. Fortunately, the opposite is true as well. All it takes is a single player to lead the team towards unity. We call this leadership.

How can you become the player who positively impacts the team dynamic? You don’t have to be the strongest, fastest, most talented athlete. The only requirements are for you to be caring, disciplined, communicative, and selfless.

4 Ways to impact team culture

1. Invest in your teammates

If you wish to improve the team atmosphere, start at an individual level. Keep your eyes open for the needs of your teammates. Don’t be shy to step in and help. When one teammate goes out of their way to help another, the receiver will typically have the desire to reciprocate. One by one, you alone can establish a whole team of players looking out for each other.

What does this look like? If you happen to be a skilled player, take a moment to coach a less-advanced teammate. Be careful not to put yourself on a different level. Advise them as an equal and compliment the things they do well.

If there is no opportunity for the above scenario, find alternative ways to help. Assisting someone in a non-technical way can be even more effective. For example, grab water for a thirsty teammate. Give them your ball while you fetch the run-away. Hold their blocks. The list goes on and on. Look for simple ways to show kindness.

Words go a long way too. Be encouraging. If you sense someone is having a rough day, ask them about it. Find out what is impacting their mood. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable with them. Deep connections are made through struggle.

Also, take the time to learn about your teammates’ lives outside of sport. The more you all know about each other, the more comfortable you will be on the field together. Always follow-up because it shows that your intentions are genuine.

2. Be the one who does “extra” at practice

No, I don’t mean do extra workouts.

Be the one who sets the standard. Go above and beyond to raise the bar, even if it isn’t popular.

We are all guilty of occasionally giving subpar efforts in monotonous activities like warm-up drills or general strength circuits. A team will feed off of each other’s energy. By being intentional during these monotonous activities, you can change the whole team approach to them.

When the coach requires a volunteer or a drill is about to begin, don’t hesitate to step up to the plate. It’s a nonverbal way of saying that you’re confident in yourself and you’re confident that the activity will be beneficial.

We’ve seen drills be underperformed because everyone is stuck in a “you go first” mindset. That thinking just shows fear which will be translated into the team’s performance. If you step up, others will follow will confidence.

Another way to “do extra” is to be accountable. You don’t have to be looking over your teammates’ shoulders. Nobody likes that. Just be accountable for yourself and your teammates will eventually do the same.

For example, if your coach sets a specific rest time, stick to it. Don’t lollygag around in your final seconds, but prepare yourself to execute the next rep. If your teammates want to ignore rest times, then they will just have to catch up.

Be cautious with the way you “do extra”. If you don’t have the right attitude about it, your teammates may look at you as a goody-goody, suck-up, or just plain annoying. Make sure you’re “doing extra” as a way to elevate your performance rather than trying to make yourself look better than your teammates.

A good way to clarify your intentions is to explain the benefits of taking monotonous drills seriously or sticking to appropriate rest times. This will garner respect from teammates, and they will likely follow in your footsteps.

3. Communicate with the coach

The coach has a lot to do with the establishment of team culture, but they certainly cannot change it alone. When the players respect the coach and buy into the programming, practice becomes more efficient. A habit of efficient, intentional practices will result in improved competition performances. If you make the effort to develop a good relationship with the coach, it will soon become the norm for the team.

Establish a relationship of trust by being dependable. This means you don’t skip out on reps or complain about conditioning. Your actions show the coach that you are on board. Next, give your coach feedback. Let them know which drill was most effective. Feel free to humbly provide ideas for the future. Report on behalf of the team, not just yourself.

Making these communication efforts encourages your teammates to do the same. Sometimes there is a gap between the coach and the team. This gap may cause relational fear or apathy, neither of which is good for the overall team culture. By bridging this gap via communication, your teammates will learn to trust and respect the coach more too.

4. Receive praise last

team culture sports

Finally, one of the most important ways a single player can impact the team culture is by receiving praise last. True leaders are the last to seek reward. They are more concerned about their teammates than themselves.

This can play out in a couple ways. For one, many athletes have media opportunities. Whether it be by interview or social media, direct any victories towards your teammates. It doesn’t even matter if you had a hattrick. There is always a way to complement the team rather than take the credit yourself.

Make sure you’ve honestly reflected on the value of your team or else your credit-shifting will seem fake.

Here’s another way to put your teammates first. At the end of a hard practice, let your teammates line up ahead of you for water. Everyone wants water, and it goes a long way to step out of line. It’s a nonverbal way of saying “I respect how hard you worked today”.

These simple, selfless actions won’t go unnoticed. They show appreciation. They will generate appreciation in return. Before you know it, you have a team full of grateful players who care about each other.

In summary

Whether your team is already unified or completely disconnected, you have the ability to positively contribute to the overall dynamics. Shifting the culture of a team starts with a single player who is willing to lead. Leading is not always easy or popular. It requires investing in teammates, extra discipline during practice, communication with the coach, and a willingness to receive the reward last.

You can be the one to get your team on the right track. Set the standard. Watch the team dynamic evolve as others follow your example.

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