Oct 17, 2023
How to Influence & Implement a Winning Team Culture
Greg Werner, MS, MSCC, RSCC*E, SCCC, CSCS*D, Assistant AD, Strength & Conditioning, Virginia Tech

Successful teams have a unified culture that keeps everyone organized, focused, and moving in a positive direction.

It’s very important for the athletes to understand that there is one team culture, and to hear and see it being spoken and lived by all those involved with the team – no one involved with the team can function as an independent contractor and disrupt the overall team culture.

In discussing his view on team culture, longtime University of Texas strength coach and CSCCa legend, Jeff “Mad Dog” Madden said, “It’s extremely important for all members of the athletics staff, from the janitors, certified athletic trainers, sports dieticians, academic advisors, equipment staff, to the entire coaching staff, to be on the same page of winning and building a great positive team culture. Anyone who has access to the team should believe in and echo the head coach’s vision.”

cultureWhen asked about his experience working with head coaches in both college and the NFL and influencing team culture, Johnny Parker, a three-time Super Bowl Champion strength coach, said, “Belief in the same core values about how to coach, lead, and motivate are paramount. The head coach must have a strength coach who shares his core beliefs about how to coach. The values of the coaching staff must reflect those of the head coach. In time, the team will be of like mind as the head coach and will prepare and play the way the head coach wants them to.”

With that understood, properly educated, certified, and experienced strength and conditioning coaches are experts at developing athletes’ mental and physical performance traits and abilities necessary to practice, perform, and succeed at their sport, and they are essential to bolstering the adherence of the team culture.

But what does it take to be a successful strength and conditioning coach?

Mickey Marriotti, a three-time NCAA Division I football National Champion strength coach at Ohio State University, described some of the responsibilities as a strength and conditioning coach.

“We help individuals improve their performance and achieve goals by providing training, advice, and guidance. A strength and conditioning coach motivates, cultivates, educates, and inspires athletes,” Marriotti said. These four skills ultimately lead to influence and an excellent strength coach needs to be an effective influencer.

Below are eight essential skills I’ve utilized over my 33 years as a collegiate strength and conditioning coach. These skills have helped me establish credibility as an effective professional, and have led to my ability to influence the athletes, coaches, and staff I’ve worked with to push forward the central team culture and make consistent progress.

Be intelligent. There’s one common reality to every athlete you’ll ever coach; they’re human. So, study the human body (functional anatomy & physiology, kinesiology, biomechanics, exercise science, and psychology) to gain an intelligent understanding of the human structures and systems you are working with. Study the science and art of program design, and very importantly, study the sport(s) you work with.

Be dependable and trustworthy. A team’s culture is about more than just what everyone does, it’s about how they do it and what they stand for. Former University of Nebraska strength coach Boyd Epley told me, “If the strength coach is not aligned with the head coach’s philosophy and vision, he or she shouldn’t be that coach’s strength coach, period.” The sport head coach needs to trust you and have 100% assurance you’re a dependable extension of him or her.

Be a confidence builder. Your influence should be heavily weighted towards building the athletes’ confidence in their strength development and sports performance. In speaking with Virginia Tech Hall of Fame strength coach Mike Gentry about building confidence, he said to “think it gets to the essence of what’s most important in developing a winning culture. During the off-season accomplishing hard tasks builds confidence in both individuals and teams. This earned confidence is essential for competitive success during the season.”

Be real. Communicate with the athletes by being genuinely you. Don’t think you have to copy someone else’s style, develop your own authentic style. Athletes are quick to recognize a copycat, and they won’t respect you if you’re fake. If you have a real passion for being a team strength and conditioning coach, you’ll find joy in speaking to groups of athletes. If speaking to groups is uncomfortable for you then you may be better suited for small teams or individual coaching.

Be motivated to do your job! You must be personally motivated and love what you’re doing to authentically motivate and influence others! Have energy, and be a positive energy giver because you’re working with young athletes and they’re feeding off your energy.

Be creative. Creativity is a large part of being an excellent coach. Athletes and coaches admire creativity as long as it’s developmentally productive. Always test your creative ideas on yourself or a colleague before implementing them into your athletes’ program.

Be focused. An excellent strength coach knows his focus is helping the athletes develop and supporting the team culture. CSCCa special advisor and previous two-time SEC strength coach of the year recipient Rob Oviatt said, “On the best teams, the head sport coach’s message, needs to be everyone’s message. There is one unified voice, with one unified focused vision.” If your focus is on helping others get better, it can’t help but make you better.

Be efficient. Don’t waste the athletes’ and/or coaches’ time with fluff and meaningless activities and information. Everything you ask the athletes to do needs to have a proven purpose, and you should be confident explaining that purpose.

The most influential strength and conditioning coaches, like those I’ve quoted above, are excellent at uniting their strength & power training sessions with character-building activities, and they make their conditioning sessions team-building productions. Those coaches are masterful at enforcing and building team culture around their well-designed and effective programs – something every head coach and athlete desires.

The eight skills I’ve spoken about are by no means an exhaustive list, but they are eight I’ve utilized with great success over the years, and I believe if you implement them into your professional repertoire you will have success with them also.

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