Developing a Positive Team Culture

Posted with permission from PGCBasketball

By Lyndsey (Medders) Fennelly, former director and clinician with PGC.

Our 75-minute presentation was titled, “A Coach’s Role in Impacting Team Culture”. We shared some key points about how the culture of your team can be established, reinforced, and even reinvented, through your team’s basketball practices. The two main areas that support this belief come from Point Guard College’s brilliant founder, Dick DeVenzio, and also from watching some of the top basketball coaches in the country at the high school, college, and professional level. We have identified some of their championship-level habits in developing the top players and creating the best basketball teams.

A simple formula we’ve come up with is the following:

Successful Team Culture =
Procedures + Progressions + Precision + Patience

  • Procedures are the actions which have to be executed in the same manner in order to obtain the same result. In a prior blog (‘What I Learned from Coach Krzyzewski’) (That excerpt is below), I shared the various procedures you can use with your basketball team to develop daily consistency and expectations throughout the program. Establishing procedures within your program allows you to maximize your time as a basketball coach. While this can create some temporary inconveniences, it will lead to permanent improvement.
  • Progressions are a series of activities or drills with a definite pattern of advancement. It’s important for coaches to progress through drills in a way that will ‘make sense’ to the athletes. During our summer basketball programs and year-round clinics, I find it especially helpful for basketball players to progress through teaching using this model:
    • Give instruction that describes the organization of the drill — Provide the rules for the drill — Give them the points of emphasis — Remind them of the intangibles (i.e. how to lead themselves, enhance the drill, and ignite their teammates)
    • In providing your athletes with the points of emphasis, stick to the ‘Rule of 3’ and explicitly state what you are looking for.
  • Precision means having a ridiculous attention to detail. As coaches, we have to understand: we teach what we emphasize. In my experience, it’s quite apparent that the best coaches in the world demand a high level of ‘exactness’ from their basketball players at all times.
  • Patience is required once the above three items are put into play. Be honest… What drives you crazy as a coach? What causes you to slam the clipboard or throw the whistle? Every good coach has a long list.  I think of Dick DeVenzio’s “Responsibility Principle” from Runnin’ the Show that places the responsibility on coaches to be bigger than shortsighted frustrations. Essentially, the thought is: don’t put yourself through a whole season being irritated by the things you failed to explain. Do you lose your patience because your players performed the drill wrong or because you failed to properly explain the basketball drill? It’s our job as coaches to teach with clarity and to ensure we communicate exactly what we want at all times. But, be patient. Have a persistence to your patience. Model the qualities that you want to see embodied in the culture of your team.

After watching both the Duke men’s basketball and Connecticut women’s basketball teams practice this year, it’s quite obvious why both basketball programs won NCAA national championships. In their practices, this formula held true. The daily procedures were run, the progressions made complete sense, the precision was phenomenal, and each coach was patient enough to explain something to their players that was not understood.

PROCEDURES ARE EFFECTIVE

In line with the great precision Coach K demands of not only his team and program, which includes managers, staff, and other personnel involved with the team, there were a definite set of procedures the team understood happened ‘every’ and ‘always’. Dick DeVenzio used to refer to this concept of creating procedures that your team should do every time they are in the gym and at an ‘always’ rate, not a sometimes thing. The shirts were tucked in, the players knew how to line up on the baseline, and even the obtaining of water was a set, routine procedure. This allows for more coaching and teaching, and less telling. There is a difference between teaching and telling. High level coaches, like Coach K, are teachers, providing useful information in a variety of ways and creating engagement with the athletes. Coach K and his staff no longer had to tell their athletes repeatedly to do something. They understood the procedures, and as a result, time wasn’t wasted on mundane tasks.

I encourage you as either a coach or a basketball player to consider implementing some of these key thoughts above into your practices and basketball training. It will take time, it will take persistence, but most importantly it will take a commitment to be someone better than you already are. None of the prior three statements are easy. But hey, winning NCAA national championships isn’t a walk through the park either!

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