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4 Ways to Build a Positive Sports Team Culture

youth sports team management

Building and maintaining a positive sports team culture is important in creating a safe, enjoyable experience for athletes and coaches. Team culture is established by leaders (coaches) and reinforced by athletes who believe in it. This means that it’s truly the responsibility of coaches to decide they want to build a positive environment and work on it every day.

Figuring out where to start can be challenging, especially when dealing with teams composed of athletes who haven’t played their sport together before or if you’re coaching for the first time. Don’t worry, Upper Hand has you covered with 4 tangible things you can do to build a team culture that everyone is proud of.

While you’re here, don’t forget to check out our new Teams feature. Establishing a positive sports team culture just got easier when managing scheduling, payments, and team communication with Upper Hand.

1. Establish clear values and be the example

Team culture can be defined as the energy, traditions, and values of a group of people working toward a shared goal. A great way to kickstart an awesome team culture is to establish clear values and model those values as coaches and mentors. These values can include expectations for how to approach team participation such as hard work, teamwork, and responsibility. They may also include rules about how to treat each other on or off the court like sportsmanship, kindness and respect.

You should establish values that are simple enough for the age group you’re working with to understand and applicable enough for them to reiterate in all types of situations. Sometimes athletes need a little reminder in times of adversity or during a tough game that as a group they can still work together and they can still respect one another. As coaches, athletes often look up to you and if they see you working hard, sticking together as a staff, and respecting yourselves, they’re more likely to buy in and do the same. Practice what you preach and show your athletes how it’s done.

2. Balance accountability with encouragement

While it may be the not-so-fun part of coaching, holding your team accountable is crucial in building a positive sports team culture. It teaches them that there are consequences for actions that don’t align with team values and can help redirect them to a behavior or perspective that’s more positive. You may need to sit them down for a serious talk or repeat certain drills until they give their full effort when they’ve forgotten to work as a team or to show good sportsmanship. Holding your team accountable doesn’t mean highlighting every little mistake, but it does mean putting the well being of your team first.

It’s also important to note that an environment of solely accountability with no encouragment can be a recipe for disaster. This can definitely dampen the spirit of the team and make it difficult for them to see the fun in their sport. Balancing accountability with encouragement lets them know that the structure you’re providing is coming from a place of care. Words of encouragement, highlighting accomplishments often, and never forgetting to mention small improvements along the way lets them know that you see their hard work paying off and you enjoy being their coach.

3. Let your athletes take the wheel

Empowering your team to apply the skills they’ve learned gives them a sense of ownership over their experience. Feeling like they have a true say in influencing their own sports team culture can result in deeper investment and buy-in among them. This empowerment can come in many forms, from letting athletes lead certain drills to incorporating team captain input during pre-match pep talks and huddles. Letting athletes take the wheel in this way may give you insight into what they feel their team strengths and weaknesses are or what they enjoy most. You can use this information to your advantage when planning future practices or upgrading your list of team values.

Providing opportunities for your team to recognize each other’s accomplishments is another great way for them to take the wheel. Take positive feedback from being exclusively coach driven to being and teammate driven as well. Whether they’re voting for each other to win superlatives like “Best Hustler” or sharing a positive insight from their match in a post-game huddle, this type of peer to peer recognition can lead to genuine camaraderie.

4. Have fun!

Sports can bring joy to coaches and athletes alike. On your teams, it’s always a good idea to supplement the gritty work you all do with something light hearted. While athletes may find their sport to be one of the biggest parts of their lives, it’s important to remind them that playing sports is something that should push them but still bring them a sense of accomplishment.

Games, jokes, music, and non-sport team building activities are all ways you can bring fun to the time you spend with athletes. There may be an activity or song that they associate with their time on the team that bring back awesome memories for years to come.

Related: 6 Creative Ways to Keep Athletes Engaged in Essential Drills

Ready to build a positive sports team culture?

Establishing clear values, holding your team accountable, appreciating athlete input, and having fun while doing it may come easy to you. But, if it doesn’t, we hope you’re able to take some of the examples and ideas above and apply them as you work to build and maintain your team’s positive culture.

All it takes is one coach who cares and one team that feels like home to change an athlete’s life for the better. Your team’s culture plays a role in that. Every day won’t be perfect, but ensuring athletes show up to a safe, enjoyable environment will always be rewarding no matter if you win, lose, or draw.

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