Communication Drives Culture Part III

Parents. For every coach I know from youth through high school levels, parents are their biggest challenge to the culture they are trying to create within their team. Whether it is the absence of parents or the misguided ambitions of the overly-involved parents, their impact on a coach and a team is undeniable.

Like most who have been coaching for any length of time, I have had parents meet me at the edge of the court/field as soon as the clock said 0:00, and even some come to the sideline while the game was still in progress. On the other hand, I've spent hours waiting for someone to pick a kid up after the practice/game was long over. Refusing to believe this is an inevitable part of coaching, I stepped back to reassess and proactively address the issue.

The root of the issue: Communication.

Just like any relationship, unmet expectations create all kinds of bitterness, resentment, loss of trust. And yet, how often do we clearly define and establish expectations? The parents I communicate with most frequently, always seem to be my biggest supporters and contribute to the team culture in positive ways. Those I don't...the aforementioned sideline experiences! So how do I apply this knowledge in a practical way? 

Here are a few of my more successful strategies:

  1. Parent Evaluation. Just like I have my athletes complete a preseason evaluation so I know their expectations, this simple 5 question survey begins the conversation of clarifying expectations. Having parents articulate their goals and expectations in writing is often a great priority check in and of itself.
  2. Weekly email. Each week we have a different focus and emphasis for our growing process as a team. Sharing that focus with parents and proactively communicating some of what their kids will be hearing in practice allows the parents to engage in the process with us, and creates allies for when challenges arise.
  3. Team dinners. Food, like sports, is a universal language. When we sit down together around a table of food, barriers fall away and communication thrives. In this type of setting, we often revisit preseason goals and assess our progress as a team (yes, coach and parents working together as a team in the lives of the kids). This allows me as a coach to pick up on feelings that may be shared with multiple parents and distinguish them from isolated incidents. It also allows me to articulate what I am seeing from the "coach's seat" on the bus about our progress and specific areas where parents can engage to help. Without fail, this is always one of the highlights of the season and a galvanizing experience that enhances the second half of the season.

Ultimately, this level of communication eliminates the opportunity for kids to try and play both sides against one another and lets them know they have a team of adults in their corner. Literally, COMMUNICATION DRIVES CULTURE. The result is kids who are more engaged, more confident, and more focused. 

Have some tactics of your own? Please share them in the comments!

Razzle & Dazzle

When I was a kid my best friend and I would play basketball for hours on a lowered rim and commentate on our greatness as we threw each other ally-oops and performed amazing feats never before seen on the hardwood. Our names: Razzle and Dazzle. The result was something like this: “Razzle brings the ball up the court with just seconds left in this barn-burner of a game. He and Dazzle have really put on a show here tonight, but they will need one more bucket for the win. 5 seconds left…Razzle crosses over to his right as Dazzle comes up for the handoff. 4 seconds…Dazzle dribbles to the left wing. Razzle flashes on the baseline. 3 seconds left…Dazzle throws the lob. Razzle goes up in traffic, and tips it off the backboard. 2 seconds…Oh My! Dazzle is crashing down the lane! 1 second…He snatches the ball out of the air and throws down a monstrous JAM as the buzzer sounds! Razzle & Dazzle have done it again!! Razzle Dazzle baby!! Etc. etc. We would do this for hours and hours, as many days a week as our parents would let us. Needless to say, our attitude and effort were always at a maximum level.

Attitude & Effort are critical to success. They are the only things your athletes have control over each and every day. Typically we focus more on effort than attitude because it is easier to measure or assess effort. However, our best effort does not always lead to the outcomes or results we desire. So what does this do to your attitude? When you give your best effort as a coach, but it does not result in the outcome you are looking for, what happens to your attitude? If you’re not sure, take a look at your athletes - their attitude is probably a mirror image of your own attitude response. 

The game of basketball is FUN. That’s why we say we PLAY basketball. Often times we bring language from other places into basketball, like, “Let’s go to work.” But the reality remains that basketball is a game, and an incredibly fun one at that! At points in the season it is often easy to forget that this is supposed to be fun. Conference games are in full swing. Practices can seem to drag on. The travel is wearing on you. Altogether it can be exhausting. This is where Attitude changes everything. Razzle & Dazzle never got tired of running the same plays. Think back to why you love the game of basketball. Why is it fun for you? Whatever that answer is, infuse it into your practices and games. Set the tone with your attitude and enjoy the privilege that it is to be part of a team in the midst of basketball season! Make it fun. Your drills, conditioning, performance, and effort will improve as a result. Attitude reflects leadership. You are leading. Lead with an attitude that makes your team want to Razzle & Dazzle.

Communication Drives Culture Part II

How do we help our athletes learn and develop the skills of healthy communication? While this has always been a challenge, in this day and age where most communication is electronic (like this post), it is even more challenging and more critical. 

During my first practice I always lay a few ground rules:

  1. Live with integrity and you will earn the respect of others.
  2. Regardless of what else is happening, we always have control over our attitude and our we all commit to giving our BEST effort and having a positive respectful attitude.
  3. When you speak to someone, especially me because I am deaf in one ear, look at them and speak clearly.

Incredibly simple "rules", but the key is the consistency in applying them. If I bring my best effort and attitude each day to practice, then I am also living with integrity because that is something I committed to doing. Thus, we start the cycle of healthy communication.

If you leave it to your athletes to make the team rules, almost invariably they will come up with something about being encouraging and positive toward their teammates. The desire for healthy communication is already there! As a coach, it is my job to create the environment and opportunities for them to practice this. Here are two practical ways I like to do that...

At the end of each practice I ask my athletes, "What did you see?" This reinforces that the team is bigger than any individual, and by forcing them to keep their eyes up it increases their awareness of what is happening around them (great skills for our actual competing as well). They usually start with simple things like, "[So and So] played really great defense today." Instead of letting it stay there, I make them look at their teammate, use their name, and tell them what they saw them do. The simple shift from an announcement to a personal compliment carries a ton of weight! After this level of communication becomes normal, the level of compliments increases as a result. By the end of the season we get things like, "[So and So], I know you have been working on your confidence all season, and today I saw you compete without fear for the first time...and you did awesome as a result!" (Now, imagine not just teams, but homes full of that level of awareness and healthy communication...that's one of my goals as a coach!)

Another method is "the spotlight." As much as people often pretend to want the spotlight, when it comes we don't know how to handle it...partially because it is usually negative. In this case, I will have one athlete stand in front of the rest of the team. They must keep their eyes up and look at whichever teammate is talking to them. Then their teammates take turns complimenting that one athlete about any positive things they can think of (hairstyle, shoes, smile, skills, role on the team, personality, etc.) Each compliment they receive, they must look at their teammate and tell them, "Thank you." Not many things will help you build team cohesion and healthy communication habits more than this type of activity. It is a huge confidence boost for the individual and doesn't take long before it becomes a highlight of your practices.

Do you have other ideas or ways you like to help your athletes learn and develop the skills of healthy communication? If so, I'd love to hear them! Leave a comment...

Communication Drives Culture Part I

"The quality of our CULTURE depends on the quality of our RELATIONSHIPS which depends on the quality of our CONVERSATIONS." 

Whether we are talking about the culture of our team, or the larger culture in which we live, this statement holds true. Thus, one of the most powerful and practical tools we can teach our athletes is how to be good communicators. In team sports the ability to communicate effectively during competition is critical, and often the determining factor in the outcome. In our locker rooms the communication that takes place will either enhance or undermine all of the work we build in practice and our team activities. In our homes, both scenarios are true...when times get tough and urgent decisions must be made, poor communication leads to mishandled situations; and unhealthy communication will destroy even the best of intentions and efforts. Unhealthy communication ultimately produces losses, dissension among the team, and broken homes. 

So how do we build effective communicators? For starters, we must model the kind of communication we want to establish as the norm. How and what we communicate to parents is often the first (and most critical) building block. Communicating clear boundaries and expectations will alleviate countless problems that become pitfalls for building healthy culture.

One of the most effective ways to ways to do this is by being direct and not allowing things to fester. Do not avoid conflict or run away from uncomfortable situations. Step into them with calm, clear communication and purpose for the greater good of the relationships. Healthy relationships lead to healthy cultures. Healthy cultures built on healthy relationships lead to an incredibly powerful united group of people! And as the great Coach Lombardi said, "People who work together will win, whether it is against complex football defenses, or the problems of modern society."

Lombardi Quote.PNG


In summary: If you want to win (in competition, in building healthy culture, in building good communicators), then you must start by modeling healthy effective communication. 

In part II we'll focus on how to build healthy communication skills with your athletes...

Why are they here?

The concept of "knowing your why" has become very popular as of late. There are tons of resources, videos, and step-by-step guides designed to help you identify your WHY. I will say that the overwhelming majority of coaches I know have great intentions and motivations behind why they coach. If you haven't processed through why you are coaching yet, I strongly encourage you to read and work through Joe Ehrmann's book InsideOut Coaching. 

However, what I find missing from most coaches' knowledge base is why their athletes are there. It is easy, based on the level and age group you are coaching, to make assumptions and stereotype all your athletes with the same reasons and motivations for competing. Just like we, as coaches, have our own unique WHY or motives for getting into coaching, so do our athletes...and I can tell you from experience they range ALL over the map.

One of the finest skills of a coach is the ability to adapt and customize to their individual athletes. Coaching a kid who is there just to be around their friends the same as you coach the kid who wants to be a standout and make it to the next level will frustrate you and the players all season long! 

Starting each season with clear expectations will not only save you headaches down the stretch, but it will lead to a more unified and higher functioning team. The link below is a simple document I have used for years with all ages, talents, and sports (some modifying required). Just having these simple answers gives me a huge advantage on how to implement my WHY as a coach in a way that will have the greatest level of impact on our team and each individual athlete. Please, take, modify, and use this tool (or create your own).

Player Evaluation

Chemistry & Character

"The more you move up the ladder of success in the NBA, character, chemistry and intelligence become more valuable.  Talent becomes less valuable.  There are 10 teams in the league that have enough talent to win a championship.  There are probably three, by the end of the playoffs that have the character and the chemistry to actually win the championship.  And you're eliminated somewhere along the way by your chemistry, by your character or by your intelligence, not by your talent." - George Karl

Each member of your team engages in 4 different ways that are key to team chemistry and character:

Chemistry & Character.png

As your athletes are identifying their individual and group tasks/skills, have they identified their RELATIONAL role on the team or as an individual?  Often down the stretch of the season, having a fully engaged team will be the deciding factor Coach Karl refers to. That process starts early in the season but is most evident at the end.  What are you doing in your practices to reinforce the value and significance of every individual and their role on the team?

The time given to each aspect is not nearly as important as the process of engaging your athletes holistically.  Does your practice plan reflect this? The skill you, as coach, must master is knowing your athletes and your team.  The challenge of balancing time and attention to each dimension is critical. 


“If serving is below you, leadership is beyond you.

Serving is at the heart of leading and is therefore one of the most important things we can model and teach our athletes. I love the quote above and hang in a place my athletes will see it often.

How are you serving your athletes?

Are they following your lead and serving others?

How could you help provide situations and opportunities for them to serve?



Trust is built with Consistency.

One of the greatest challenges we face in life is to continually give our best effort regardless of circumstances. Sports provide us a great microcosm of that; and an opportunity to safely test our limits. To consistently give our best effort and pursue excellence is what separates us from “the pack”. 

Shortcutting and settling creep in when we start to get comfortable with a routine and lose interest and/or focus on improving. For athletes this is often a reflection of what the coach is doing. Are you still putting forth the effort and energy to plan and run the best practice you possibly can, or have you started settling for recycling from previous practices? Your consistency in giving your best effort as a coach is directly reflected in the attitude and effort your athletes enter practice with each day. If you have started to settle and lose consistency, go back to your original plan you made for this season and realign today’s practice with your overall goals…which means you should be doing something new and different to keep up with the progress your team is making.

As you maintain consistency in a world that lacks it greatly, your athletes will recognize you as a person worthy of trust. Trust is the foundation all of your coaching is built on. Be trustworthy, show your athletes what it looks like to be consistent, and they will start to follow suit.


Compete (from the Latin): com-“together” + petere “aim at, seek”

Translation: Competition is striving for something with others.

How many athletes would play sports if all they ever got to do was practice by themselves? Day after day, after day, after day. Not many. The joy of playing any sport or game is found in the testing of our limits and achieving things we did not know we could do. Thus, the opportunity to play with someone else, to compete, is an essential part of what draws us to sport. Playing with others reveals new things about ourselves and provides opportunities not available when we are alone. So why do we see so much negativity between competitors?

When anyone else in life helps us accomplish something we could not have done alone, we are grateful for them…and often express our gratitude and thankfulness. How can we as coaches begin to help our athletes see their competition in this light? Not only do we owe gratitude to our competitors for helping us achieve things we could not achieve by ourselves, the better our competitor, the more grateful we should be!

As you go into your next competition, help your team to recognize and appreciate the value of the team they are competing with. And if your competition is better than you, proudly take on the opportunity to learn and grow that they are providing you. This mindset shift from hostility to gratitude will free up emotional capacity as well and help your team to play even better.

Compete. And be grateful.