How to Build a Winning Team

How to Build a Winning Team.

"It's not the best team that always wins, but the team that plays best together." How's that for an overworked cliché? Except for one minor thing…It's absolutely true!  How many times have you had an incoming class of such unbelievably talented athletes that you immediately started dreaming of all the glory that awaited you during the championship part of the season? 

    Perhaps you can remember "waking up" some time in the middle of that same 
season to realize you were in the middle of a nightmare. As good as the players were, they didn't get along. They wouldn't listen to you. They fought with each other. In short, they just couldn't seem to get their act together and play well as a team, which left you long on frustration and short on fun. It's interesting how a season that started out with such promise and anticipation could end on such a sour note. Perhaps you even remember counting the days until you could say good-bye to this group of athletes. Then there are those unexplainable seasons where you get a group of players together that aren't that outstanding physically, yet time and time again they seem to come together and win. There's a closeness and chemistry present that everyone seems to get caught up into that carries you through the entire season. You find yourself having the time of your life with this group of overachievers. They're easy to be with and coaching them is effortless and 
enjoyable. These are the teams that you win with. These are the situations that make your coaching both rewarding and meaningful. If only you could take out your chemistry set and whip up this same brew over and over again….
Unfortunately building a winning team isn't all that easy. Frequently it is  directly dependent on the types of players and personalities that you have on your squad. Poor attitudes and selfishness are tough "team-busters" to combat as a coach. There are, however, some important things for you to keep in mind as you go into the next season that can get you off on the right "team building" foot:


Understand that teamwork begins and ends with you. Regardless of the kind of 
athletes on your squad, you have the power to shape the kind of team that you want. How you go about doing this depends upon three things: 
1.  How you interact with your athletes 
2.  How important you make "being a close knit team" as a season goal 
3.  The kinds of player behaviors that you tolerate and reinforce. Let me explain.

#1 As the coach, your single, most powerful teaching tool is modeling. How 
you carry yourself with your athletes will significantly affect how they carry themselves with each other. For example, if you are direct and honest  in your communications with them, they will be more likely to be direct and  honest with their teammates. If you yell and scream at them when they screw  up then chances are good that you'll see some of your players "aping" your  behaviors when their teammates mess up. If you're insensitive and demeaning  to them, you can count on seeing these behaviors going on between players. If  you scapegoat them don't be surprised when you see them doing that to each  other. 

     All too often coaches fail to take into account how much powerful teaching,  (positive or negative) they do in their everyday interactions with their  athletes. Coaching isn't just simply transmitting your knowledge of the  sport. How you communicate that knowledge is the key. Your primary vehicle or this communication is the relationships that you develop with your  athletes. When you develop the proper relationships your athletes will grow  and develop in the sport as athletes and people. When you set up destructive  relationships with your charges you'll turn them off and teach them the wrong  lessons about the sport, life and themselves. 

    I recently spoke with a Division I athlete who was struggling with a decision about whether to return to her team for her senior year. Her reluctance to continue to play a game she once loved was a direct result of the coach and the hostile environment that she had created for all the players. 

    Take an hour out of practice in the beginning of the season to highlight those behaviors you want and those that will get the team into trouble.

     Next, take a risk! Ask the experts! Just as there are athlete behaviors that are "team busters", there are also coaches' behaviors that undercut teamwork and sabotage the overall performance of the group. Are you secure enough in yourself that you can ask your players to label coaching "team-busters."  In team workshops I also encourage athletes to list all the behaviors that coaches get into that cause problems for the team. Write those down on a black board and then discuss them. I'll list some of the more "popular" ones here. However, my list won't be nearly as valuable to you as the one that you can generate by asking your own players.  You don't even have to directly ask them to label yours or your staff's behaviors. Just ask them to make a list of "coaching team busters" in general. If you're smart, you'll use their list to get even better as a team builder. 


· Showing favoritism
· Yelling
· Scapegoating
· Playing mind games
· Being dishonest
· Lack of, or indirect communication 
· Linking athletes self-worth with their performance
· Being negative
· Acting apathetic and disinterested
· Never giving positive feedback
· Failing to challenge your athletes enough
· Failing to stop negative, inappropriate behaviors 
· Being a lousy role model
· Shows a lack of respect

Finally, ask your athletes what behaviors from the coach foster or build a close team. This feedback on "team builders" should give you and your staff some great ideas as to exactly what's needed to build a winning team. Some typical responses that I've gotten over the years: 

· Positive attitude
· Provides constructive criticism in useful way
· Supportive
· Honest/trustworthy
· Open communication
· Respects all team members
· Sets appropriate limits on inappropriate behaviors
· Positive role model
· Cares about the athlete as a whole person
· Easy to talk with
· Treats everyone fairly
· Walks the talk

#2 Make "building a close-knit team" an important goal for the season. Let your players know that one of your priorities is that they all get along, support each other and work together. Emphasize that success can only come when everyone works together.  If you as the coach continually stress the importance of teamwork soon your players will begin to value and live it. 

#3 Do not collude with or indirectly encourage team busting behaviors. Just because something goes on in the locker room out of your sight doesn't mean it's none of your business. As a coach you should havezero-tolerance for any of the athletes' team busting behaviors. Enlist your captains to help the team maintain an awareness of what behaviors are appropriate and which ones aren't. Be ready and willing to set limits and provide consequences for those athletes who continue to violate these team-building rules.
If you want to have a winning program you must remember that you can't get there without a total team effort. This places the ultimate responsibility for building such a close-knit unit squarely on your shoulders. You are the architect and builder of a winning team.