How to create your program’s ambition
Posted by Kurt Earl in Unity
The Culture Coordinator exists to equip coaches to build unity, develop people, and win games. That sounds nice, but what does it mean?
Before I answer that question it’s important to recognize that great cultures are built by building unity first, developing people second, and winning games as a byproduct of building unity and developing people. Too many coaches try to win games when they haven’t built unity or developed people. Coaches who try to win first may have a few winning seasons here and there, but they’ll likely never become the culture coordinator of a perennial powerhouse.
Therefore, the foundation of your program’s culture is unity around a shared ambition. When I say building unity what I’m really talking about is gathering everyone around a shared ambition and motivating everyone to achieve the same ambition. Great programs have a single unifying ambition that everyone in the organization is committed to achieving.
This means that you need to clearly define and clearly articulate your program’s ambition.
Ambition=a strong desire to do or to achieve something, typically requiring determination and hard work.
I love the second half of this definition and want to caution you regarding the first half. The second half is great, right? What coach worth his salt doesn’t want to teach his team to strive for something that requires determination and hard work? I love it. You should love it too.
But the first half of the definition is worth pondering more deeply. It includes the word achieve. Obviously, it’s a dog-eat-dog world out there and the battle belongs to the one who desires to achieve. There’s no doubt about that, but it’s a fool’s errand to make a specific achievement the heart of your ambition. Why? Because achievements involve too many variables that we cannot control. You cannot will your team to certain achievements. Sometimes the opponent is too great, or injuries that could not have been prevented steal your opportunity.
The good news is that you can will your team to certain behaviors and that if you consistently string the right behaviors together you’re going to achieve great things more often than not. As you formalize your program’s ambition, focus your thoughts on behaviors, not achievements. Your definition of ambition should be as follows:
Ambition=a strong desire to do something, typically requiring determination and hard work.
To help you identify what behaviors might make it into your team’s clearly defined and clearly articulated ambition ask yourself, “Why does my program exist?” I know, I know…you’re a coach, not a philosopher, but bear with me.
Let’s get the common sense answer off the table. Your program exists to win. That’s the point of competition, right? Let’s not get so far down the philosophical rabbit hole that we forget the obvious. Winning is something we should all be striving for, but we need remember winning must be the byproduct of unifying the team and building people not merely players.
Therefore, when you ask yourself, “Why does my program exist?” you have to go beyond the scoreboard. It has to be more than winning because that’s what everyone is trying to do. If that’s your only ambition you’re not standing out as unique and special to your players, your parents, or the rest of your stakeholders. Your ambition must be unique and stand out from the competition.
For example, I coach at the largest non-denominational Christian school in a 200 or 300-mile radius. Our ambition is uniquely Christian and stands out among the other football programs in our area. It’s also focused on behaviors and choices rather than achievements. Simply stated, our ambition is to glorify God. Why? Because we’re a Christian school we believe we are called to do all things for God’s glory.
Regardless of where you coach, your program has something unique that you can exploit and use as your ambition. Similarly, you can, no matter where you coach, have a program ambition that is focused on behaviors and choices rather than achievements. Let me show you what I mean by way of a couple hypothetical examples.
Here in Nebraska, there are dozens of small towns that are essentially fading away into history. These towns were once the home of large factories or railroad hubs or were the main stop on a US highway. Over the years the factory has been outsourced, or the trains no longer stop, or the interstate highway system stole away all the traffic. If I was the head coach of the football team in one of those small Nebraska towns I might declare our program’s ambition to be “Restore the Pride.” I’d talk incessantly about conducting ourselves in a way that can give our community something to be proud of. Why? Because in a fading small town the high school football team can serve as that spark that unifies the community and builds hope.
All over America, there are football teams forged from the student populations of the tough inner-city streets. The players on these teams have grown up in poverty and surrounded by neglect, abuse, addiction, and violence. If I was the head coach of the football team in a challenging inner-city environment I might say our ambition is to “Break Free” from the lifestyle and choices that surround us and live with a greater purpose. Why? Because football might be the only place many of the players on your team get a chance to learn about living a healthy lifestyle and making wise choices.
My point here is that regardless of where you coach, you can come up with an easy to remember and powerful ambition for your program. I don’t want to overstate the importance of crafting an ambition that is unique to your program, but I dare say it is the most important thing you can do as a culture coordinator. Why? Because your program’s ambition is your true north, it’s your compass, it guides you in decisions big and small and unites you in the face of adversity.
Have a question about how to craft your program’s ambition? Post it in the comments section below or in the forum so the culture coordinator community can help you create the ambition that is right for your team.