Systems Thinking

Every coach desires to build a winning culture, but only great coaches have a plan for designing and implementing a culture that drives success. When I became a head high school football coach after ten years as an assistant, I realized I had an offensive coordinator, a defensive coordinator, and a special teams coordinator, but we needed a Culture Coordinator. I also realized I needed a system for designing and installing my culture like I already had systems for installing our offensive, defensive, and special teams schemes. The Culture Coordinator System teaches you to use the system I used to transform my team from 1-18 to play in the state quarterfinals two out of three years.

James Clear said it best: “We don’t rise to the level of our goals; we fall to the level of our systems.”

The Culture Coordinator System is a system for creating and installing a culture that drives success. It accomplishes this by teaching your athletes and all program stakeholders how to interpret the events of the season for the program’s good. The first step is using the Culture Coordinator “Culture of One” tool to discover the strengths and weaknesses of your current team culture. The second step of the system will teach you how to build trust and begin to create what I call an Audience Independent Culture. Once you’ve learned how to gain trust, you’ll learn how to create and cast your unique vision in a compelling and inspiring way, whether through in-person gatherings, phone calls, emails, or text messages. The final step in the Culture Coordinator System teaches you how to build unity using the Culture Coordinator Team Discipline System, training leaders, and teaching your athletes how to use the Culture Coordinator Levels of Motivation to self-assess and grow on their own.

Implementing the Culture Coordinator System will help you proactively address the frustrations that come when athletes, parents, and stakeholders are not united in a shared ambition. When you implement this system, you won’t merely avoid the “hot seat.” You’ll develop strong allies in your community who will support you with their resources.

This system will unite all of your program’s stakeholders, help you fulfill your potential as the Culture Coordinator of your program, and build a culture that wins. Completing the Culture Coordinator System will transform you into a confident leader ready to build a championship culture.

Beyond Behavior Modification

In my time consulting coaches across the country,  the #1 mistake I see coaches make when they set out to create a great culture is focusing on modifying behaviors rather than transforming ambitions and motivations.

Why is focusing on modifying behaviors a huge mistake? Because you set up a culture in which a reward or a punishment must always be present to accomplish anything. If your athletes only give their best when a reward or punishment is present, you create a culture dependent on extrinsic motivators. You will successfully modify behaviors but won’t build a culture founded on trust, love, and love for the program.

Creating a system of rewards and punishments is the fast track to results because it’s easier to modify behaviors than to transform ambitions and motivations. A system of rewards and punishments is also the quickest path for finding your team leaders and weeding out athletes who don’t belong on the bus. But in the end, focusing on modifying behavior by using rewards and punishments leads to a shallow and easily broken level of trust and loyalty between athletes and coaches. In the most critical moments of the season, no one will be motivated to go above and beyond for the sake of the program if the culture is focused on modifying behaviors.

Truly great Culture Coordinators resist the temptation to get fast results by modifying behavior and focus their attention on transforming the ambitions and motives of their athletes because they know it leads to more profound and longer-lasting success. Great Culture Coordinators teach their athletes how to be motivated by a love for the game, a love for teammates, and a love for the program. Athletes motivated by love in this way will go the extra mile in the most critical moments of the season because of their deep desire to contribute to something greater themselves and work in unity with people they have developed a deep bond.

In this first step of the Culture Coordinator System, you will learn how to assess your current culture and identify the best path toward a culture where athletes are motivated by a love for the game, a love for their teammates, and a love for the program. This chapter will transform you into a leader with a plan to build a championship culture.


What is the Purpose of Culture?

In 2016 Tim Ferriss sent out a simple tweet that got me thinking. The tweet read, “As much as I dislike vague talk of ‘company culture,’ I like this definition: What happens when people are left to their own devices.” Tim Ferriss

A few weeks after Ferriss’ tweet, I was named the new head football coach at Lincoln Christian School, where I had served as an assistant for ten years.

The tweet rang loudly in my head as I began to take my first steps as the new head coach. Our former head coach and I had built a solid culture over the years, but it was time for a serious refresh.

I spent an incredible amount of effort attempting to create a new culture. After my first season as a head coach, I realized I was the Culture Coordinator. I task other coaches to coordinate the offense, defense, or special teams. My task was to coordinate the culture.

As I pondered Ferriss’ tweet, and the ideas I had learned from articles and podcasts on the same topic, my mind grew increasingly confused about how to define culture. Defining culture was too meta, too abstract, and far too intangible.

Enter Brian Kight and Focus 3. I brought Kight in to do a workshop with local coaches and with my football team. There were many pearls of wisdom from that day, but perhaps the biggest pearl was the clarity he brought to the question, “What is culture?” Ironically, he didn’t answer or even attempt to answer that question. He asked a better question: What is the purpose of culture?

As soon as he asked the question, my mind began to realize I had been asking the wrong question. In asking, “What is culture?” I was asking the equivalent of, “What is football?” and hoping for the answer to be “West Coast Offense” or “4-2-5 Defense.”

So, what is the purpose of culture? According to Kight and the Focus 3 team, the purpose of culture is to drive behaviors that win. Kight went on to say, “The purpose of culture is not to make people feel good and comfortable. The singular purpose of culture is to drive the behaviors called for by your strategy.”

Suddenly, the most obvious question was, “How do I define winning, and what are my strategies for creating wins?” Notice the progress of my train of thought. I went from “What is culture?” to “What is winning, and how do we make winning happen?” From the abstract to the concrete.

But what is winning? Our current sports culture is more focused on individual stars than outstanding teams. As a result, people define winning or success in a thousand different ways. A high school athlete might define success as getting a college scholarship, being all-conference, or breaking a school scoring record. This focus on self also manifests in a lack of loyalty to teams. For instance, growing up, there was no doubt I would be a mighty Trojan at Longmont High School. The odds of me becoming a Falcon at cross-town rival Skyline were zero. No chance. I’d rather die than suit up in red and yellow. That type of loyalty to the school in your neighborhood is dying. More and more high school players see themselves as free agents choosing the school that best meets their needs. What does all this have to do with defining winning/success? It means that your team is filled with players who define success differently. Some don’t care if you win or lose on the scoreboard as long as they get their stats. Others define success as being the starter at their favorite position and can’t imagine playing a different position for the sake of the team’s goals.

Here’s my point: If you’re going to create a culture that drives behaviors that win, you first have to define winning and sell your players on that definition. But remember, the #1 mistake I see coaches making is merely modifying behaviors rather than focusing on changing the way their athletes think. Truly great cultures drive behaviors by molding and shaping people and changing what motivates them.

The Culture Coordinator System will transform you into a Culture Coordinator who knows precisely how to design and build a culture that drives success.


Information and Opportunity Symmetry

Being a head coach is more demanding than ever. As our society becomes increasingly connected on a 24-7-365 basis, the job description of the head coach is an ever-evolving document. The traditional tasks of managing equipment, communicating with coaches, players, parents, and administration, motivating players, etc., remain.

But new responsibilities have emerged. In our modern context, great head coaches recognize they must be great marketers. They understand that a critical aspect of their job as the head coach, dare I say the most crucial part, is creating a brand for their program and selling that brand to all the program’s stakeholders. Whether he likes it or not, a great head coach is in the business of marketing and sales.

If you are not convinced the previous statement is true, take the time to read a book written in 2013 by Daniel Pink titled “To Sell is Human.” In the book, Pink carefully outlines several reasons why we are now in sales. As a head coach, the concept Pink calls information symmetry caught my attention and made me realize that selling is now a critical component of building a strong program.

To make his point, Pink uses a classic scene at a used car lot. Twenty or thirty years ago, a customer came to a used car lot looking for a car with the help of a salesman to obtain information about the vehicle. The customer only knew what the salesman at the car lot told him, and he could not validate the salesman’s claims. Pink refers to this old reality as information asymmetry because one of the people in the interaction held the vast majority of the critical information.

In the age of the internet, this paradigm has changed drastically. Now customers come to the used car lot knowing everything about the car they are interested in buying. Thanks to companies like CarFax, the customer and the car salesman have roughly the same information about the vehicles. This new paradigm, which Pinks calls information symmetry, has completely changed how a good salesman at a used car lot operates.

What does this have to do with coaching and building cultures? The same transition, from information asymmetry to information symmetry, has occurred in coaching. Twenty or thirty years ago, the local high school coach knew all the critical information about building a great athlete and program. Parents and players had no choice but to trust the coach in much the same way the person wanting to buy a used car had no choice but to trust the used car salesman.

In a world where anyone, not just coaches, can gain instant access to some of the best resources for coaching, parents and athletes now have the opportunity to create the same amount of information symmetry the customer has at the used car lot. As a coach, you know from experience that your most ambitious athletes and parents have acquired enough information to be dangerous. They need some help interpreting and applying what they know, but they know way more than you and your parents did when you were an athlete.

This reality, which Pink calls information symmetry, can’t be ignored, and it’s part of why every great coach must be a salesman. As a coach, you must sell your culture, strategies, techniques, practice schedule, off-season conditioning program, etc. The list of things you need to sell to your athletes and their families goes on and on. Love it or hate it, you can’t ignore it.

You might be thinking, “So what if information symmetry exists? How does that make sales a part of coaching?” Information symmetry means that we are all in sales because another type of symmetry has also emerged. Twenty or thirty years ago, athletes played for the school in their neighborhood. They were loyal to their local high school, partly because there were no other options. They had one opportunity and chose to either make the most of it or not participate.

The landscape has changed, and athletes and their families have more freedom than ever. Transfer rules at the high school and college levels allow students to transfer and be eligible for competition. Athletes and parents now have choices, and players increasingly see themselves as free agents choosing the school that best meets their needs (By the way, I see this happening in academics as well). All of this leads to opportunity symmetry. But what I have described thus far is only the beginning of opportunity symmetry. With the rise of club teams, the reality that college coaches are far less dependent upon the high school coach in recruiting than they used to be, and the emergence of offseason camps where players can “be discovered” each athlete “needs” his high school coach to achieve his dreams far less than he did twenty or thirty years ago. Again, you can love or hate it but you can’t ignore it.

To be clear, I’m not a huge fan of some of these realities, and I don’t think athletes and parents know nearly as much as they think they do, nor do I believe the high school coach is as unneeded as some players and parents may think. The merits of their perceptions aren’t the point here. I’m not attempting to argue about the degree to which information and opportunity symmetry exist. The reality we must accept is that information and opportunity symmetry are perceived to exist to a significant degree, and this means that part of being a great coach is being a great salesman. You can’t afford to market your program.

Remember, even though information symmetry exists at the used car lot, there is still a need for car salespeople. The car salespeople have been forced to tweak their game a bit, and we would be wise as coaches to recognize we need to tweak our game a bit too.

The Culture Coordinator System will teach you everything you need to know to become a coach who knows how to market their program without feeling like a sleazy salesperson while building trust and casting your vision for the program.


Generation “Why”

What generation are you? You know what I mean. Are you a Gen Xer? Are you a Grandpa Millennial like me? Maybe you’ve been coaching for a few decades and are a Baby Boomer. There are a few names for our current generation, but I call them “Generation Why?”

Why? Because they always ask, “Why?” Not only do they always ask why, but most of them, in most situations, aren’t too inclined to do much of anything until they know exactly why they are doing it and have decided that doing it is worth their time.

This characteristic is both frustrating and worth commending. It’s frustrating because even after you have established trust with your athletes, they still refuse to do much of anything if you haven’t clearly articulated why they should do it. You must constantly remind your athletes of the why behind every aspect of your program. Not only that, but many of them aren’t going to remember the why or understand the why until you’ve clearly articulated it multiple times and in various ways. Doing so takes a lot of time and energy. It can be frustrating.

You must remember that wanting to know the why behind everything they do is also commendable because it demonstrates that your athletes desire to think more deeply about why they choose to do this or that. Nine times out of 10, it’s not a tactic for avoiding working hard like we so often assume. It’s a genuine desire to be purposeful.

When you were playing, how often did you do something with no questions asked because Coach said to do it? Constantly, right? Generation Why? isn’t wired that way. They demand that you explain the why behind everything continuously. You can decide to resist that reality or embrace it. It’s your choice.

Our teams are full of athletes who are waiting to work hard for a coach who will take the time to constantly and clearly articulate the why behind everything the program does. But it’s important to recognize that merely teaching the why isn’t enough for this generation of young people. They’re also craving another characteristic from their coaches. 

Generation Why? demands that their coaches love and care about them as people, not merely athletes. There’s an old cliche ringing more true every minute: They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. The old cliche has never been more true about high school athletes than it is today. Today’s athletes are more relational than ever before. As a result, they value advice and instruction from someone they know well far more than they do from someone who knows well.

You can summarize these changes in two words: relationships and purpose. Study after study has shown that today’s young people long for real relationships and profound purpose in all they do, especially something that demands as much commitment as athletics. The bottom line is that if your program doesn’t offer the opportunity to forge authentic relationships and a sense of deep purpose, your team won’t attract today’s athletes.

You need a system for building a culture founded on relationships and purpose. You need a plan to help your program develop young people who are great athletes and great community members.

Focusing on relationships and purpose is integral to building your culture. Only when real relationships and profound purpose are present will individuals rally around a shared ambition, set aside their agendas, and serve the team.

Once athletes and coaches understand your Why, What, and How, they are free to be motivated by a love for the sport, teammates, and a love for the program. Every program has its own unique Why, What, and How. The Culture Coordinator System will help you discover yours step-by-step. The system begins with a tool your athletes can use to find out what motivates them and enables you to identify the strength and weaknesses of your current culture. It also provides action ideas for assisting your athletes in moving towards being motivated by a love for the program.

The Culture Coordinator System will also teach you how to be a coach who embraces your athletes’ desire to know the why behind everything you do and become a coach they trust deeply and enjoy following.


The systems and support you need to build a winning culture

In this introduction to the Culture Coordinator System, you learned: 

  • The importance of having a system that transforms the ambitions and motives of your athletes rather than merely modifying their behaviors.
  • Great cultures drive behaviors by molding and shaping people and changing what motivates them.
  • The importance of marketing your program in a world where information and opportunity symmetry create a highly competitive marketplace in sports.
  • Why your athletes crave relationships and purpose more than any other generation before them.

Here’s the bottom line: Building a culture that transforms the way your athletes think is a monumental challenge. You will fail if you don’t intentionally and systematically install a winning culture.

Remember, “We don’t rise to the level of our goals; we fall to the level of our systems.”

The Culture Coordinator System provides all the resources you need to transform into the Culture Coordinator guru your program needs. The system will teach you how to discover what type of culture you currently have, design the culture you want to have, and create a plan for installing a championship culture.

The strategies and tactics used in the Culture Coordinator System are the same strategies and tactics I use daily as a high school football coach. The same strategies and tactics transformed our program from 1-18 to play in the state quarterfinals two out of three years.

When you invest in the Culture Coordinator System, you decide to empower yourself to be the best Culture Coordinator you can be as the system guides you step-by-step through the journey.

The complete system will give you the confidence you need to lead boldly as the Culture Coordinator of your program and give you the skills to build unity, develop people, and win.

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