Team culture takes the combined effort of coaches and players. In this blog, volleyball coach Lindsay Peterson explains how coaches can start building the right traditions.
I’ll never forget my first collegiate volleyball game. It was the first time I’d been through the actual warm-up with the team. We did all the normal things; warm up our arms, pepper, work on team defense, etc.
Then right before our time was done, the seniors pulled us into the huddle and told us there was a chant we always did before every match. A cheer that started off just a whisper and ended as a scream by the end. A cheer that in few words described just how good we thought we were.
This chant was a ritual—it never changed. Game after game, we spoke those words. It was exhilarating, it made my blood pump, my heart race, and let me know that we were all in this together.
I look back at the moment and realize the complexity of that simple cheer. It was tied to every game in the years I was in that program, including a Division II national title, countless wins and broken records. It’s important to have these positive traditions in your program, whether it’s cheers, chants, dirty sock rituals or the thousands of other things your team could do to get excited about games. I’m a firm believer in positive traditions + positive leadership = positive team culture.
There are two sides to my team’s culture: how the coach and staff build traditions to facilitate positive culture, and how team leaders help establish that culture. In this first blog, I’ll focus on the coaches’ side.
I had a coach tell me once to always work players extremely hard in your first practice of the year, then at the end of that practice ask them what they want to be known for. I tried it and the results were great.
Kids are eager to tell you what they think. Now for us, winning and losing isn’t who we are. The things we stand for and how hard we’re willing to work, that’s who we are. Having my players establish “who we are,” and what we want to be known for, is imperative for us to begin our season.
Most of my teams agree on something close to the same thing every year: tenacious, relentless, competitive, a never-give-up attitude, hard-working, hard to defend, supportive, etc. Every year will be different because each year’s team is different. Even your leadership might change. But you can sustain team culture in your gym by establishing who you are.
During the Season
As the season begins and then progresses, make sure you’re establishing consistencies. For instance, before every home match, my team comes in early and sets up the nets. Then they spend the next 30 minutes serving and passing.
It’s also a tradition for the team to gather at my house twice a year for “practice.” We play games, eat snacks and watch motivational movies. Other traditions could be team dinners, team-building days, themed practices, program game days. There’s a plethora of inexpensive, or even free, activities for your players to participate in that are beneficial for your team culture.
Make these activities sustainable and worthwhile, and plan them in advance so it’s easy to stick to them.
The end of the year is almost as important as the beginning. To make sure the culture you’ve been building all year will carry on, use your banquet to remind your players of all the things they accomplished throughout the year. You could even use awards to emphasize what’s most important for a positive culture.
At Millard North, we give out the Mustang Award to the player who has put in the work and never gave up during hardships. The best part of this award is that it usually winds up being a kid who doesn’t always get the “clout.”
For example, one year it was a middle who started in the first 25 matches of the year. She replaced an injured Division I hitter, worked incredibly hard, and we went undefeated during the time she started. When it was time for the injured player to come back, she didn’t give up. She continued to give it her all, became a leader on the practice side, and pushed us to be the best we could be. She gave herself completely and didn’t complain one time! That’s why this award is so important to me and to my program culture.
Positive team culture is a direct reflection of the leadership provided by your coaching staff. Find ways to promote culture on your court and in your program. The long-lasting benefits will be worth all your time and effort.
Lindsay Peterson has been a varsity head coach for eight years. She played for the University of North Alabama, helping them win the DII National Championship in 2003. Peterson has led her Millard North High School team to the state championship tournament seven times, winning in 2016 and 2018. She was named one of the top 40 coaches in the country by the AVCA, and Coach of the Year by the Omaha World-Herald.