Anyone who has ever played on a team or been part of a team knows that each team has its own unique culture and identity. Some programs value winning over everything and are quick to point to their on-the-field success. Other teams value tradition and point to their history of consistency. Whatever team you’re playing on has a definite identity and culture which is created by some combination of the players, coaches, and community.
The best programs design their culture based on the vision of one or more individuals (usually the coach) within the community while members of the team buy into that culture. The values are unquestioningly understood and accepted by everyone. These cultures are founded on a core set of values which never change. While the circumstances and landscape around the team may change, the culture remains unaffected.
On the other end of the spectrum are teams with no clear vision and culture. They don’t have a clear set of values or an understanding of where they are going as a team. It’s the worst kind of culture due to its instability and vulnerability to outside influences. Like a relationship without trust these cultures are destined to fail.
So what does this have to do with you the player? The parent? The coach? First, it’s important to understand that whether you know it or not you are a part of a culture and you have to know the nature of that culture and your role in it. Do you have a say in the team? Are you encouraged or allowed to have an opinion? Is the pressure such that you’re forced to conform or else? Second, you have to realize how the team is influencing you. What are the consequences of failure? What happens to you when the team or one of your teammates succeeds? Finally, how does the team culture influence others? How does your team interact with other teams? What is the perception of your team and are you proud of that perception?
It’s my contention that the ideal organizational culture is the one which puts the team first rather than the accomplishments of one or two players. I think of the success of teams like the ‘14 Spurs, ’15 Duke, ’15 Kentucky, and UCLA teams under Hall of Fame coach John Wooden. These are teams which took elite talent and paired it with a team-first mentality to realize success which would otherwise have been unattainable. It’s everybody’s team and nobody’s team at the same time. I would argue that players on teams which share their accomplishments with others and reflect praise back to the team create positive, sustainable environments in which everyone is valued equally. Furthermore, players on teams which share successes create happy, well-balanced, and well-adjusted individuals who in turn create communities of similar people. It’s the true beauty and value of sport which has the power to change the lives of not just the player but their entire families and communities.