Creating Team Culture to Support Kids’ Mental Game
Intentionally or not, all teams have a culture.
While cultures are usually not created intentionally, the impact of the culture is far reaching.
But what is team culture?
“The culture is how it feels to be involved with the team,” says Mark Lawton, a longtime teacher and coach who has led numerous teams to the championship level.
“How the team feels about and interacts with the coach. Do you want the culture to be one that is serious and goal-oriented or do you want it to be more upbeat and fun?”
When it comes to creating a team culture, numerous questions can arise about fairness, styles of play and how athletes dress, he says.
Coaches, with the help of parents, need to address these issues.
It’s important to create a team culture that actively supports kids’ mental game, he says.
For example, parents and coaches may want to create a culture that appreciates all that can be learned from mistakes.
To accomplish this, coaches could actively talk about mistakes and run drills specifically meant to encourage kids to make mistakes and move through them. They should enlist the parents to help them instill this idea in sports kids.
It’s much easier to instill these values at the beginning of a season, rather then trying to create them later, Lawton says.
“These culture choices will just happen naturally if you don’t consciously make those choices from the start, and if they happen naturally there’s a good chance you’re going to end up with a culture you didn’t actually want to develop,” says Lawton. “On the other hand, if you cultivate it, you end up with the culture you actually want. You have to be proactive.”
One real-world example of the benefits of team culture is San Antonio Spurs coach Greg Popovich.
He cultivates a culture of family, telling all of his assistant coaches to “hug ’em and hold ’em” (meaning the players) as much as possible. He believes in telling his players that they are part of the group, and he believes that every one of his players can meet the group’s high standards.
This consistent culture has created consistent play. The San Antonio Spurs have won five championships with a .713 winning percentage and 20 consecutive winning seasons.
“You need to define the culture very early, but then after a week or two I like having a team meeting where we can solidify the team culture, even though I wouldn’t say it in those terms to the kids. Personally, I like a team culture of doing well and having fun,” says Lawton.
He stresses that while it’s important to create a culture at the start, it is equally important to be consistent about it.
“You have to be clear with your expectations and then you need to be clear in your implementation of that. A lot of coaches may lay down their expectations but not stick to them, which doesn’t help cultivate culture at all.”
Listen to our interview with Lawton here:
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- Criticize themselves often after making mistakes?
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Young athletes and their parents and coaches tell us that sports kids often struggle with these pregame mental game challenges:
- They feel pressure to excel from expectations they feel from others
- They focus too much on the outcome instead of the process
- They fail to take charge of their confidence before the compete
- They don’t trust in their skills when they go from practice to competition
- They hang on to mistakes and dwell in them in competition
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- They tighten up and play safe when they feel pressure to succeed
- They interpret pregame jitters as harmful to their performance
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