How to build unity around your vision for your program.
Posted by Kurt Earl in Public
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We are living in the Wild West of loyalty.
As a Culture Coordinator, you can complain about it and sulk in self-pity.
You can adjust your game plan and beat the competition.
It’s your choice, Coach.
Everyone comes to your program with different agendas. Every athlete and their families have unique ideas about what is important and what they hope to accomplish through being a part of your program. Great Culture Coordinators accept this reality and do the hard work of establishing their program as a destination and not merely a stepping stone.
To help you get your mind around this concept, I want you to picture three athletes on your program.
First, picture the overall best member of your program. This athlete combines talent, skill, leadership, etc., better than anyone else. He’s the easiest to recommend to coaches at the next level.
Second, picture that athlete that is an MVP for you in many ways but lacks something that will keep him from playing at the next level. Maybe he is simply too small or slow. Maybe it seems unlikely that he will ever process the game well enough to compete at the next level. Overall, this kid is just as valuable to your program as the first athlete you pictured, but his skillset, for whatever reason, does not transfer to the next level.
Third, picture the athlete who will barely make the cut and contribute to your program. There are many reasons he might barely make it, but ultimately, the odds are low he will ever play much, and he certainly won’t be all-conference or all-state.
With those three athletes in mind, I want you to consider the reality that each is on a journey in the sport you coach. They may play other sports or be heavily involved in different school, church, or community activities. Remember, only the first athlete appears to have a future playing your sport beyond your program. All three might become coaches at some level, but the odds are low that even one of them might make coaching their profession.
Now, think about the fact each of those athletes will consider your program as one of two things: A stepping stone or a destination. If they view your program as a stepping stone, they won’t buy-in, and they will lack loyalty. Why? Because your program is nothing more than the road traveled to their destination.
If they view your program as a destination, they will buy-in and be incredibly loyal. Why? Because even though they move on to another destination down the road, they consider your program as a chosen place to arrive at, glean as much as they can from, and take the lessons learned with them on their journey.
You have to establish that your program is more than a stepping stone; it’s a destination. It might be one of many destinations along an amazing journey, but perhaps, in the end, your program will be their favorite destination.
Now that you have your program’s ambition statement, ambition story, and definition of success, it’s time to build unity around the compelling vision you’ve created. The reality is that unity around a compelling vision only occurs when athletes see your program as a destination and not a stepping stone.
But you have to actively teach why your program is a destination and make a case for why your athletes and their families should consider it the same.
You have to win over your athletes, their families, and the rest of the school community.
But you also have to make your program’s expectations and standards crystal clear so that those who never buy-in and are looking for a mere stepping stone self-select out.
As you begin to consider what it looks like to establish your program as a destination and not a mere stepping stone, remember, you coach in a world of information and opportunity symmetry. Youth and high school sports are the ultimate examples of capitalism in many ways because information and opportunity symmetry can run wild with very few limitations from governing bodies.
Similarly, with the transfer portal and NIL opportunities, college sports are less regulated in these areas than ever before. Ironically, one could argue that professional sports are now the most regulated form of sport.
Unregulated opportunities (you must see them as opportunities, not threats) open the door for the proactive communicator.
The Culture Coordinator, who is the proactive communicator, will win.
- Proactive communicators win because half the battle is being the first to set expectations, set the schedule, and get on the calendar.
- Proactive communicators win because giving people the information they need ahead of time establishes you as an experienced coach that people can trust.
- Proactive communicators win because future conflicts occur within the framework you’ve already built and are more easily resolved.
But what does it look like to be a proactive communicator?
You can become known as a proactive communicator who draws people into your program by doing three things at the right time each year.
- Host a Season Kickoff Event.
- Write powerful emails that teach and preach your vision for the program.
- Schedule in-home visits.
As a football coach, I host a season kickoff event every spring, typically the first Monday night after the state basketball championships.
- The purpose of this event is threefold:
- Teach and preach our program culture.
- Establish requirements for being on the team and expectations.
- Formalizing our program’s commitment to the players and our player’s commitment to the program.
I do this by reviewing our program ambition, revealing this year’s ambition story, outlining the schedule through the state championship game, and signing our Letters of Intent.
Once the season kickoff event has taken place, it’s time to write powerful emails that teach and preach the same things your season kickoff event did. During the offseason, I occasionally shoot off an encouraging email or an email that inspires athletes and families to get more invested and honor their letter of intent. During the season, I send out a weekly email every Saturday morning that teaches and preaches the theme for the upcoming week, reflects on the week gone by, and outlines all of the dates, times, etc., on the schedule for the next two weeks.
The Season Kickoff event and the carefully crafted emails are great, but the most important thing I do to build unity in the vision I’m casting for the program is in-home visits. Throughout the spring and summer, I set aside 1 or 2 evenings per week to visit my players and their families in their homes.
The goal is simply to get to know the player and their families better than I already do. I try not to bring football up and keep the conversation focused on getting to know each other better outside of football.
The Season Kickoff event, the emails, and, most importantly, the in-home visits establish our program as a destination in the hearts and minds of players and their families. They make it very clear that our program is striving to provide relationships, wisdom, and training that last throughout a lifetime. As a result, our program is one of many destinations on a lifelong journey, not merely a stepping stone.
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