Team-First Culture Begins with Coaches Modeling Behavior

By Scott Rosberg

team-first culture, basketball, coaching

Coaches can’t expect players to exhibit team-first attitudes and behavior if they don’t demonstrate it themselves.

As coaches, we are constantly preaching to our teams about the importance of each member of the team having a “team-first” attitude. Our focus is generally on the fact that, while they need to develop their skills to become the best individual athletes they can be, their main focus as members of the team must be the success of the team. All of that individual ability isn’t very important if it is not translated into team success.

One way to do this is to show the value it will bring your players if they have a team-first attitude. You must be a salesperson in some ways. You must paint a picture for them of the team success and what it will mean for them individually as well as for the entire team and program. Help them see that if the team achieves what you all seek, they will have a much better chance at achieving their own individual success. While individual success and accolades are fun and exciting, there is nothing quite like being part of a successful team.

Also, help them understand that the concept of being part of a team and having great teamwork and team spirit is something that will be involved in many other parts of their lives. No matter what they do or where they go in life after this experience in athletics, they will always be part of some kind of team. At work, in sports, in a club, or in their families, the camaraderie of a team will be something they will continue to experience. They will always be part of groups that are bigger than themselves. Giving everything they have to those team experiences will reward them in countless ways.

There is nothing quite like being part of a selfless group working toward a shared goal. While coaches must work to develop team spirit within the players on the team, the members of the team must also work within this spirit. As with most concepts, if those who are most affected by the idea don’t buy into the idea and then work at developing it, it will not be accomplished in the best way possible. So it is critical that they recognize the importance of being a great teammate for the team experience to be the best it can possibly be for all involved.

Not Just for Players

Many coaches hear the types of messages above and think, “That’s right. My kids need to start behaving like good teammates. They have to have a team-first attitude if we are going to succeed.”

While that is absolutely true, there is one key element that too many of these coaches are forgetting: The coaches are part of the team, too!

Too many coaches direct their thoughts outward when considering this “team dynamic.” Their focus is on the fact that the players need to have team-first attitudes, but they themselves don’t need to. After all, they are in charge of the team. They are the ones telling everyone else what to do.

As with most things in most organizations, it all starts with the leader. As the leaders of teams, coaches need to make sure that they are not only instilling and developing team-first attitudes in their teams but also displaying and modeling a team-first attitude for everyone to follow. It’s not a “you and them” situation. It’s a “we and us” situation.

Team-First means the team comes first for EVERYONE! Yes, coaches are the ones who are in charge. Yes, they must handle all of the planning, executing, disciplining, and everything else that a leader needs to handle. But that doesn’t mean they are above everyone else only and not a part of it. They are members of the team, too.

When players see coaches exhibiting a team-first attitude, it is easier for players to get on board with that same attitude. They can not fall back on the idea that, “Well if he doesn’t need to be a good teammate, why do I?” Also, they will see what it means for a leader to also be a follower. They will see that with regards to their culture, nobody is exempt from living by the team’s covenants and standards. “We’re all in this together” is the feeling that a coach who has a team-first attitude is displaying for his/her team.

Examples, Actions and Words

So, how do coaches show team-first attitudes?

One way they show it is something I said in the previous paragraph – by being examples of living by the team covenants and standards. No matter what standards you and your team have established for your program, you need to be living by those and modeling them for your team. In fact, just the very act of you involving your team members in the establishment of your covenants will show them you have a team-first attitude. It’s not just “your rules” that you are telling them to live by. It is something that they took part in creating.

Another way to show your team-first attitude is in your actions. If you are constantly directing everyone else (which is certainly part of being a coach) but never stepping in and doing things yourself, you run the risk of appearing to think that you are above the team. The best way for this to not happen is to adopt a servant-leader’s mindset.

Who sweeps the floor before your practices? Who gets equipment set up and ready? Who picks up trash around the bench and locker room areas when necessary? If you pitch in and help do those things, you are showing yourself as being willing to serve and to not be above the team.  When your team sees that you have a service mentality and not an autocratic or dictator mentality, they will be seeing the kinds of thing you want to see from them. Modeling this kind of behavior can go a long way to creating a team-first spirit on your team.

Finally, while your actions will go the longest way towards displaying your team spirit, the words you say and how you say them will demonstrate whether or not you have a team-first attitude. One of the simplest ways to tell if a coach has a team-first attitude is to listen to the pronouns he or she uses. Does s/he say “I,” “me,” and “my” a lot, or do you hear “we,” “us,” and “our” more often? Me-first coaches are “I people;” team-first coaches are “we people.” Your players need to be hearing the right words coming out of your mouth to go along with the right actions that you are performing.

Players with a team-first attitude are headed down the right path toward a great team experience. But coaches who instill and model that same team-first attitude will have the largest impact on the experience those players have in their program. Make sure that you are doing all you can to create a great team culture by modeling a great team-first attitude for your teams.

*A portion of this post came from the chapter “Teamwork” in my booklet Senior Salute. I wrote Senior Salute as a gift book for coaches to give to their senior athletes at their end-of-season banquets. It has 7 different Team Themes – Character/Integrity, Trust, Toughness, Passion, Accountability, Teamwork, Success – that have been and will continue to be a part of their lives. Each chapter has inspirational quotes that help illustrate that theme, and the inside front cover is set up for you to write your own personal note to your senior. Single copies are $6.00 each and a 10-Pack is only $50.00. Click here for more information or to order “Senior Salute.”

More from Scott Rosberg: Goal Coaching – “Plan the Work, then Work the Plan” | Failure IS An Option! | All Blog Posts

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Teaching and Coaching have been two of my greatest passions since I began my career over 30 years ago. I have always believed that as coaches, we are teachers just like any classroom teacher. However, we are entrusted with so much more than just teaching skills and techniques of our specific sports. We are role models, counselors, and educators of the many life lessons that sports can teach young people. Therefore, it is imperative that we intentionally work to teach those lessons to our athletes. You can find more articles like this at:
ATHENS, Aug. 3, 2019 Greek national basketball team players attend a training session for the upcoming 2019 FIBA World Cup in China at the Olympic Athletic Center of Athens (O.A.C.A.) in Greece on Aug. 2, 2019. (Photo by Lefteris Partsalis /Xinhua) (Credit Image: © Lefteris Partsalis/Xinhua via ZUMA Wire)

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