Build a Stronger Team Culture

By Stephanie Zonars

Every coach I meet wants to make a difference in the lives of others. But not every coach maximizes that opportunity.

Every coach I meet takes time to define team and perhaps, personal goals. But not every coach invests time in defining his/her purpose.

There’s a big difference between goals and purpose.

Goals: shorter in duration; focused on the “what”; task-oriented; measurable

Purpose: spans longer timeframe; focused on the “why”; relationship-driven; largely immeasurable

On the long highway of life, goals are the signposts and purpose is the road itself. As you move through your career, you will achieve goals. But if your identity is tied only to performance goals, you’ll always be looking backwards to find validation. It’s why some pro athletes come out of retirement and why coaches oftentimes feel lost at the end of their careers—they don’t know their purpose apart from achieving performance goals.

But knowing your purpose—why you coach—sustains you for the whole journey. —Tweet that!

You will achieve lots of goals along the way, but your validation will come from your underlying purpose, not the goals themselves.

I can’t overstate the importance of taking the time to explore and understand your purpose as a coach or leader. The biggest reason people don’t? Because they can’t figure it all out in an hour at Starbucks.

It takes time.

It requires slowing your pace and creating space in your brain so you can think.

It means asking yourself some tough, and sometimes uncomfortable, questions.

But here’s why it’s crucial:

If you’re a head coach, your team culture starts with you. It’s a reflection of you. And the more clarity you have about who you are and why you coach, the more clear you’ll be about the kind of culture you seek to create.

If you’re an assistant coach, you’re looking for a head coach and team culture that fits you. Nothing is more miserable than working for someone whose core purpose diametrically opposes yours. But you can’t determine what a good fit looks like if you don’t know who you are and why you coach. —Tweet that!

Randy Hatch and Patrick Steele know why they coach the Lady Jags at Carroll Academy—to teach life skills.  Their team provides refuge, family and hope to girls who’ve experienced very little of those things in their lives.

Winning is not the main objective for Coach Hatch and Coach Steele—the Lady Jags have won 6 games in 14 years. But the record isn’t the most important thing to these coaches and players (just listen to the girls’ emotion in this ESPN video).

What matters? That they are a family. That the players learn responsibility, discipline and a whole list of other lessons. Success to them is a team full of girls who are doing their schoolwork and not drugs.

The losses give us the tools that we need to teach, to build self-esteem and courage. —Patrick Steele

These coaches are ultra clear on their purpose and fulfilling it fuels their satisfaction.

You may be familiar with Joe Ehrmann and his book InsideOut Coaching. He asks 4 poignant questions that will help get your brain working around this concept of your purpose.

If you’re serious about creating a culture where your staff and players thrive, schedule time to write down your answers to these questions. If you’ve answered them before, revisit your answers and evaluate your current season to see if they still hold true.

Why do I coach?
Why do I coach the way that I do?
What does it feel like to be coached by me?
What do I want to accomplish by my coaching?

If you’re not a coach, just replace that word with “lead.”

These questions will surface some concepts and words that will help you get closer to articulating your purpose—one of the most important steps in creating the best culture for your team.


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Stephanie Zonars helps coaches build and maintain championship cultures through her business, Life Beyond Sport. Teams at Penn State, Notre Dame, West Point and over 65 other schools have built stronger trust, communication and teamwork through her workshops. Stephanie spent three years on staff with the Penn State women’s basketball team, assisting the team to back-to-back Big Ten Championships. An author of four books, she now serves as Assistant AD of Marketing & Promotions at Cedarville University. Learn more at

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