How to Build an Indestructible Team Culture

UBC Thunderbirds Hockey Indestructible Team Culture Ice Hockey Coach

I’m about to break a cardinal rule of blogging by introducing the conclusion of my article right now. That’s how important this particular element of team culture is.

People.

Sometimes I have a hard time remembering exactly how the teams I’ve coached performed over the years, but I never have trouble remembering the people. We’ve all coached a couple kids here and there who gave us issues (or their parents gave us issues) but it’s those individuals who made such a positive impact that make it all worthwhile. For example, I’ve got three former players competing in Junior A hockey for the upcoming season who all considered quitting the game when they got to midget.

But they stuck with it. They persevered. They got better and raised the game of everyone around them even though they came out of nowhere.

Now one of them is a shoo-in for an NCAA Division 1 scholarship, and I wouldn’t bet against the other two.

People. Without people your culture is nothing.

Lead by Example

Don’t want your players to complain to the referee? Then you’d better be careful about your own complaining. If it’s something you value then you’re bound by your culture to follow through.

It’s no secret that culture follows us around. One of the most important things I’ve learned in the game over the past decade is that it’s important to look in the mirror as often as possible.

Keep running into the same problems with players? With management? With hockey associations?

Maybe you’re the problem.

The good news? Maybe you’re the solution.

Be the change you wish to see in the world. Talking the talk is one thing, but we all know talk is cheap.

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Establish Details

So how do we lead by example? Demand more of yourself than you do of your players.

Be on time.

Be energetic.

Prepare for every game like it’s the most important game you’ll ever participate in.

Keep your emotions in check.

You get the culture you build. Figure out which details are crucial to the daily operation of your team and your staff and follow through on them come hell or high water. Even then there’s no excuse to compromise your details once they’ve been established.

Be Patient & Consistent

The reality of building an indestructible team culture is that it takes time. We all hear about coaches hired to bring meaningful change to an organization, but here’s the thing – no matter what you think of the predecessor in that job, don’t you think they were trying to do the same thing?

Culture is different from coach to coach, but most successful coaches are after the same thing. I’ve yet to meet a coach who didn’t believe in accountability and respect, but that doesn’t mean you’re going to breed that into your players overnight.

Culture takes time to build. It takes commitment to following your values every single day.

Find the Right People

Back to people. You can walk the walk and build culture all you want, but if you don’t have the right mix of people in your group then you won’t find the harmony you seek. It’s why professional hockey players get dealt for seemingly minuscule returns. It’s why coaches get the boot for no apparent reason.

Hockey is about finding balance on and off the ice. I firmly believe that an ironclad culture directly contributes to the team’s ability to win. Lots of people don’t – I do. Teammates who get along are more creative. Coaches who feel valued speak their mind and defend their opinions. People who are included add valuable perspective and ideas to the direction of the team.

The right mix of people, while it takes time, is the ultimate ingredient in building a team culture that will withstand the test of time long after you’ve moved on.


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Kelvin is an assistant coach with the UBC Thunderbirds Men’s Varsity hockey team and a freelance hockey writer.