From the Coach
Handling a Weaker Link
It is very likely that every team has at least one “weaker link”, and as cliche as “every chain is only as strong as its weakest link” is, it holds a lot of truth. Think of your current team or teams you have had in the past. Now think of the least-talented player on that roster. That player is the weakest link. Whether they play or not, the weakest link can have as large of an effect on your team as any. No matter the talent level of a team-member, their importance to the team is equal – which makes your attention to that player just as important as well. If your weakest link loses sight of their role and purpose on a team, you lose a big part of your team’s culture. Whether their role is on the scout team, in running drills, or just in aiding the enthusiasm of the team – it is important. You cannot let yourself get too wrapped up in helping your best players get better because it is easier. If your weakest player improves, your team improves. Not only that, but by keeping them invested in the team, you keep that team-wide investment that is so vital to success. The hard part is conveying that player’s role to them. Sure, most are smart enough to know that their role isn’t star player, but it is tougher to understand what it really is. The manner in which you do so is up to you and the situation, but it is crucial that every player understands their role. It may be as simple as just sitting down and breaking down their role with them and explaining how important that role is to the team. It may be a nonverbal activity that takes care of it – either way, they need to know their role, otherwise they cannot pit their effort in to fulfilling it.
Establishing a Culture
When you look at successful teams, you may be tempted to look at a team’s top players, leaders, and the way the play. In reality however, what should grab your attention is the culture of the organization. Programs with sustained success very likely will have some kind of belief system in which the team has bought into. Bill Walsh calls it a process – a process getting to success, a process that needs to be believed in and worked for. Walsh talks about how hard it was for his first 49er team to stay true to the process after their 2-14 season. However, because the entire organization sold themselves into the process and worked toward the common goal of success, the Super Bowl season following shouldn’t surprise you. John Wooden uses a pyramid – a pyramid of success. It is his way of visualizing the building process of a program. His teams at UCLA bought into that pyramid and built their way to success. Building blocks that led to ten national championships were Wooden’s staple of success. I call it a culture. The first step in constructing a successful team is establishing a culture. The first step in establishing a culture is identifying and setting up the culture that your team needs to buy into. This is crucial. In order for your team to understand the culture, you have to make sure you have a complete vision of where your team can and will go. You must also identify what needs to happen on a team-level to get to that point. Once you have identified your vision and your process, the toughest thing is selling it to your team. No path to success is an easy one, and selling something that includes pain, work, and adversity is no easy task. However, if you are able to get your entire team, from top to bottom, to buy into a culture – live and breath that culture, you are on your way to success. My personal culture is highlighted by mental toughness and the attitude that my teams will out-work and out-hustle every other team. With this mentality, the level of talent is not as crucial as it would be without it. The nice thing about a positive, hard-working culture is that it can become contagious. If you all of a sudden have two or three kids sacrificing their efforts for the betterment of the team and program, more are likely to do the same, and when it becomes a team-oriented project the enthusiasm builds as a team enthusiasm and that only goes to aid the advancement of your culture. The only major drawback of this ideal is that every single member of the team has to be all-in with the idea and the culture. If one player has not bought in, it can ruin the culture. Just as a positive culture is contagious, a negative counter-culture can be just as or more so contagious. In brief, having a vision of where your team can go, identifying what needs to be done to get there, and selling that vision in the form of a culture to the entire team and staff is a vital step in attaining success.