A Selfish Culture Stems from a Lack of Leadership

Something I’ve noticed is most coaches at most levels aren’t satisfied with their team’s performance last season.

They feel they are underachieving.

And this is regardless of how many games they won or even if they went to the tournament.

When asked why they didn’t meet their expectations the responses are always around leadership and culture.

“My team didn’t have any leaders.”

“We didn’t work hard enough.”

“Our team was content with being average.”

“We lacked mental toughness.”

The problem with our approach is we continually treat the symptoms instead of the disease. The disease is a selfish culture. The selfish culture stems from a lack of leadership.

Yet we focus on the symptoms by investing the majority of our time and money into new gear, strategy, film study, skill workouts, conditioning, recruiting, etc..

I know everyone on a team wants to be a part of a special culture more than anything else. Research shows player satisfaction is not based on fame, winning, or scholarships. People yearn to be a part of an organization or team that is committed to serving each other and a mission greater than themselves.

A culture of success.

A culture of excellence.

A culture of selflessness.

A few years ago I made up my mind to start working to build as I defined it at the time, “a culture of selflessness”.

I wanted a team who loved and cared for each other more than anything else.

Transformation Issues

As coaches we talk a lot about the selfless culture.

We come up with great metaphors and cliches to stress this and feel our job is done by slapping them on the back of a t-shirt with our program’s name on it.

We > ME

No “I” in Team

Play hard. Play Smart. Play Together.

A few years ago I used the acronym F.A.M.I.L.Y. (Forget About Me I Love You). We put it on our t-shirt. We broke from every huddle shouting it out. We yelled it from the sidelines and in the locker room. Still, players continued to put themselves before the team. Little in our culture changed.

I wanted to be able to transform the culture of our program more than anything else. The problem was I just did not know how. I was trying to “transform” the culture in all the wrong ways.

“All human motivation arises from a longing for transformation, there are three different types of transformation. When a thirsty man drinks, he transforms his condition. When a poor man hits the lottery, he transforms his circumstance. And when Mr. Scrooge wakes up on Christmas morning an utterly new man, he has experienced a transformation of being.” -Business Secrets of the Trappist Monks by August Turak

Turak goes on to explain none of those transformations are bad in themselves, but they become harmful when we substitute one form of transformation for another. Whether we realize it or not we all want a transformation of being, from “selfishness to selflessness”.

Nearly every attempt I made to transform our culture failed. It failed for a lot of reasons that other coaches experience as well.

We think landing a big recruit or a talented player will put our program on the right track.

We think getting our first head coaching job will gain us respect.

We think a player earning a college scholarship will “fix his situation.”

We think if we win the Championship we will have finally built that culture of excellence.

The problem is we will still feel empty, because none of those are transformations of being for ourselves or our players.

“If we only had some leaders on our team…”

So I tried to develop leadership on the team, but for years I was fairly unsuccessful.

The trick is that the solution lies within ourselves not within our players.

I focused on trying to change others, but I didn’t look at what needed changing in myself.

I wanted to develop leaders without developing leadership within myself.

I wanted to develop character without developing my own character.

When your players start seeing you work to grow and transform yourself and your leadership style they will only gain respect for you and be motivated to follow.

When coaches come to me asking for advice on building leaders and improving the culture of their team I ask two really hard questions:

Are you open to changing your leadership style?

Are you willing to engage in the process of personal transformation that you want for your players?

The Bottom Line

I do not pretend to be an expert on matters involving building team culture and leadership, but I have been in the dark just like so many other coaches throwing new ideas out every season. For me it took mentorship from a really incredible person named Jamie Gilbert to guide me on those first few steps.

I know this for sure. People are not born any different then when you or I were born.

People are not born selfless and appreciative.

People are not born with a strong work ethic.

People are not born leaders.

It is the parents, teachers, and coaches that are of the greatest impact in their lives. We are responsible to our newest generation.

We have a responsibility to get this right and getting it right starts by looking within.

And then we can start focusing on ways to build character, leadership, and culture.

-J.P. Nerbun