Enforcing a standard of behavior and respect of the locker room is yet another area where coaches can create a culture of success.
Recently I started a short series for “team sport” coaches on some of the important elements of team sport success. However, I focused on areas that many might not usually think of as the most important things. So much of what we do to prepare ourselves and our teams for a season is involved in the strategy and performance areas – offenses, defenses, special situations, plays, drills for building skills, small-sided games, etc. These are major areas for us to learn and to get good at. The better we are at these, the better chance we have at success.
Though, as I said in that post, I have long felt that those areas are secondary to a number of other areas. Things like developing team standards, instilling a team-first attitude, emphasizing and then working on kids having strong work ethics, building confidence and trust with teammates, and rewarding positive behavior and good sportsmanship are all elements that would fall into this category.
It is critical that we learn, teach, emphasize, correct, re-teach, and reward those types of elements that some might consider being secondary to the skill-building and strategy components. We must be intentional and purposeful about instilling these elements into our programs. If not, the greatest XsOs and drills in the world will not matter. If we can’t get kids to show up, work hard, be great teammates, and follow standards of behavior, then the skills and strategies won’t work as well as they should.
One specific place where we can help our kids become better that many of us might not readily think of as being hugely important – the bench. Click here if you want to read that post called “Bench Behavior – Many Eyes are Watching You.”
Today I want to talk about another place that is extremely important for us to help create success with our teams – the locker room.
How do your kids handle themselves in the locker room? Do they take care of it and keep it clean? Do they treat it with respect? How are they during pregame, halftime, and postgame talks? Are they engaged, supportive, and focused when you speak? Do they pay attention to what is being said? What about when you are on the road? Do they take care of the opponent’s locker room? Do they clean up after themselves? These are all questions to consider when thinking about and discussing the locker room.
Like a Room in Our Home
The locker room should be treated like a room in our house. We must treat it with respect. Too often locker rooms are like pigpens. Kids do not take care of them. Therefore, the way they view them and then feel about them are not very positive.
However, when we as coaches demand that kids take care of their “home” – the locker room – the way they would take care of the family room or living room at their house, the locker room takes on a new feeling for them. It is a place of pride. It is a place to take care of, keep clean, and make somewhere they want to be. This goes for when they are on the road, too. Teams need to take care of other schools’ locker rooms as they would take care of their own locker room.
Also, taking care of the locker room gives players more responsibility. It is another area for us to hold them accountable for, but it is also another area where they learn the value of taking care of responsibilities. That is a good thing. The more areas where our kids feel the need to behave in a certain way and keep places looking a certain way, the more those types of feelings bleed over into other aspects of their experience. Just like someone who is working out at a gym will often start to eat better, kids will often start to carry their respect and responsibility from one area over into other areas.
Behavior in the Locker Room
Another concept to talk about when it comes to the locker room is players’ behavior. While I will be talking about how they handle themselves during pregame, halftime, and postgame talks in a minute, that is not the kind of behavior I am talking about now. I am talking about the general behavior that players should exhibit when in the locker room changing.
When you think about it, the locker room carries with it a stigma of poor behavior. When we hear about instances of “hazing” happening at schools, we often hear that they occurred in the locker room. The image of big, burly football player types of senior athletes picking on scrawny little freshman is often set in locker rooms. And when we talk about foul-mouthed, vulgar, and sexually explicit language, it is often brushed off as “locker room talk.”
So, locker room behavior carries with it an image that is not so appealing or inviting. It is up to us as coaches to work to change that. The first way to do so is to address it with our teams. We must let players know what is and is not acceptable behavior in the locker room. We need to be clear and specific in our explanations.
Then we need to reward good behavior and punish bad behavior. This means we need to be monitoring our locker rooms a lot more diligently than many of us do. Due to the closed off, “no cameras allowed” nature of locker rooms, they can easily attract bad behavior. So we must be vigilant and focused on making sure that kids are not in there for too many stretches of time without supervision. We must also make sure that when we are in there supervising, we are actually supervising.
Finally, we need to teach and empower team leaders to act in such a way that they model proper behavior in the locker room. Remind those kids what that means and reward them when you see them behaving properly and setting a good example. We also need to empower them to address fellow teammates or classmates when they see improper behavior. The more comfortable and confident our team leaders are in speaking up the fewer problems there will be. We must also encourage them to come tell us when something is out of line so that we can help address it.
Team Meeting Times
No matter what level of locker room you have when it comes to décor and amenities, all locker rooms end up being very important meeting rooms for teams. In fact, for most middle school and high school teams, the locker room is THE meeting room. Therefore, we should create an atmosphere in our locker rooms that is conducive to having productive meetings, while at the same time creating an inviting, dynamic, positive place that players want to be.
Team standards, mottos, decorations, school colors, posters, newspaper clippings, and pictures of current and former players are just some of the things with which we can decorate locker rooms walls. These types of things add class, and they help make it a place team members like to be. They also show people outside of the program that this program puts a value on taking care of the place and that they are trying to be a first-class program.
Within this setting, team meetings can take place that are focused, clear, and consistent. Whether it be a pre-practice meeting outlining some things that the team will be working on that day, or a meeting to discuss team standards and covenants, or a pregame, halftime, or postgame team meeting and discussion, the more the locker room is a place kids want to be, the better chance that the meeting has of going the way you want it to.
When it comes to game time meetings, there are some standards that players should be following. First, players need to be dressed and ready to go when the coaches tell them to be. If we are all supposed to be meeting to go over our preparations for the game plan at a specific time, then players need to be completely ready at that time. We don’t want players finishing getting dressed, tying their shoes, going to the bathroom, or any other distracting behavior once we are ready to talk. Get all of that taken care of ahead of time.
Just like we talked about last week with regards to bench behavior, once we start a locker room meeting, when coaches are talking, all eyes need to be on the coach who is speaking. Players should be sitting upright and facing forward, so they can all focus on the message. Only one person should be talking at a time, and that person will most often be a coach. If players have questions, they should wait for opportune moments and then ask their question. They need to understand that if they are wondering about something, chances are their teammates are wondering about the same thing. However, this is not the time to be challenging the coaches with philosophical arguments. This is the time to get everyone focused, locked in, and on the same page.
There are a lot of similarities between pregame and halftime. Players need to be focused and locked-in to what the coaches are saying. They need to ask pertinent questions at the right moments. However, the biggest difference between pregame and halftime revolves around what has just happened. During pregame, all thoughts and feelings are based on anticipation of what is to come. While part of players’ thoughts and feelings might be centered around how things went against the opponent in a prior match-up, most of what they are thinking about is what is going to happen.
Halftime creates a different mindset, though. The players come into the locker room with all kinds of thoughts about what just happened:
“How could I miss that wide-open shot?”
“Why did Coach take me out when I was just getting going?”
“That official screwed me on that call.”
“How come Jimmy isn’t passing me the ball?”
Players’ minds are not in an anticipatory framework at halftime. They are in evaluate and judge mode. It is up to us as coaches to 1) recognize this, 2) address those things that happened in the first half, 3) get the kids to learn from what happened, and 4) pay attention as we show them the adjustments necessary for success in the second half. All this needs to happen in a matter of about five minutes, so it is critical that players (and coaches) are locked in and focused once the coaches start talking.
Once the explanation/discussion is over, coaches need to wrap things up with some kind of positive comment to get the team moving forward and end with some kind of team huddle. As the team is leaving the locker room, it may be a good time to talk to any player who might need some individual attention of some sort.
The postgame locker room will be somewhere between two extremes: exuberant and upbeat or melancholy and depressing. This will most often be dictated by the outcome of the game. Obviously, winning locker rooms have a tendency to be a lot more fun and upbeat than losing locker rooms. Of course, there can be exceptions to this, but for the most part, the team that wins has a happy locker room, and the team that loses doesn’t.
No matter which situation is yours, it is key that you maintain some consistency in your postgame behavior. I have always made sure that we did a couple of things. First, just like in pregame and halftime, we all sit together facing the coach with our eyes up. Second, I always tell players not to start changing. This includes not even touching your shoelaces to start untying your shoes. My point in doing this is that if you are untying your shoes, you are focused on something other than what we are talking about. So, I tell players to wait, that I will not take too long in talking to them.
Once you have their attention, demand that they keep focused on what you are saying. This is your time to talk, not theirs. They need to listen. At some point, you may choose to ask for some input, but you don’t have to. That is all up to you. However, there is something to be said for coaches allowing a little bit of input, especially from assistant coaches, but also sometimes from players.
Try to keep this postgame talk to no more than five minutes and preferably more like three or four minutes. Depending on how they play and what the outcome was, they will not be hearing much of what you are saying anyway. Try to highlight some positives, point out some things that “we need to work on,” and finish with some positive comment to send them on their way.
How we treat pregame, halftime, and postgame talks determines a lot for our programs. It also sets the tone for how we want our players to treat these important moments. Make sure that you devote the right amount of time and effort to making all three of these times productive, meaningful, and helpful for your teams.
Not to be too overly dramatic, but the locker room can be a sacred place. Great teams treat it as such. They recognize that in order to create a family atmosphere within a team, a family needs a home. The locker room often becomes a team’s home. It is critical that coaches and athletes treat this very important place with the respect that it deserves. It is also critical that when they are in this home, they all treat each other with the respect that they deserve, too.
I also have recorded a short video on this topic. Click here if you would like to watch the video.
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More on team culture:
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