7 Steps to Improving Your Program’s Culture

By Aaron Boe, Founder of Complete Coach

Coaching is more important than ever in today’s world, but it is also more complicated. You are expected to develop young men (who are growing up in a smartphone world), teach the game of football, prevent problem behavior off the field and deal with parents. On top of all that, you are supposed to put together a winning season against good competition.

Because of these expectations, all coaches look beyond the X’s and O’s to improve their program. Where do you start? There is no shortage of advice on the keys to success. Is culture the key? Leadership? Accountability? Trust? What about buy-in? All of the above?

Throughout 2020, I had time to focus on these critical factors one at a time. I spent months studying the psychology and brain science as it relates to each of these influences on performance. What I found was interesting enough, but when I put it all into one framework, I realized something important: sequence matters.

To optimize your improvement, it is important to focus on these key factors in a certain order. For example, if you want to improve your culture by creating special experiences, those efforts will mean little if you do not have good leadership. Poor leadership will undermine your efforts, perhaps even during your special team event.

So, is leadership the key? Well, if you provide a great new leadership program, but you have a problem with Trust or Buy-In, your new leadership program will not be as effective as you hope.

Just as you need a game plan for each game, you need a strategic approach to improving your program this year.

The good news is a more complete strategy does not have to be more complicated. In fact, it can even be simpler. You only need to bring your best self to the table while focusing on certain areas, in a specific order.

The complete version is part of our resources at completecoach.me. These seven steps, however, will get you started on a strong strategy to take your program to another level. As you will see, it is best to start by taking a big step back.

Get Clear on Your Picture of Complete Success

Think through the many things you want to accomplish this year. For example, you want a winning season, and you also want to make a life-changing impact on the young men you coach. It is not just one or the other, it’s both. Get specific by putting pen to paper. When you are honest with yourself about what you really want, that honesty unleashes greater energy to make it happen.

Answer the prompt: “My view of Complete Success for this team includes …”

Take a Step Back and Consider Your ‘A-Game’ as a Coach

In our Complete Coach method, A-Game refers to one’s thoughtful responses to “About, Attitudes, Actions and Above.” Consider the following questions and write your thoughts on paper. You may surprise yourself with how powerful your answers to these questions can be.

Q: What do I want to be ABOUT as a coach this season? What do I really care about? What do I want to be able to think about myself when I look back on my coaching?

Q: What Attitudes will help me be ABOUT those things as a coach this season?

Q: What Actions will it take for me to be ABOUT those things as a coach? What must I be ABOVE if I want to be ABOUT those things as a coach?

Get Clear on the A-Game You Want for This Team

After completing Steps 1 and 2, turn your focus to your team and write your answers on paper for each question.

Q: What do we want this team to be ABOUT? What do I want these players to care about? What do I want them to feel about themselves and this team when they look back on it?

Q: What Attitudes will be needed to be ABOUT those things as a team?

Q: What Actions will it take to be ABOUT those things as a team? What must this team and each player be Above if they are to be About those things?

Get Strategic About Trust

Trust is talked about a lot in coaching, but do you know the science of trust? When we do not know the psychology and brain science of a key factor, we do not know exactly how to align with it. We know common sense. We have acquired wisdom over the years. But smart and decent people lose trust all the time. Why? Because “common sense” and “wisdom” are not actually strategic. They are educated guesses. One error or rationalization triggers a perception in a player’s brain that leads to resistance.

It turns out the neuroscience of interpersonal trust is somewhat simple. I will give you the answer. Trust exists when there is a perception of caring, competence, and honesty. All three. Dr. Randy Borum revealed this important finding by distilling decades of research.

Be careful. Those three things might sound too simple. Remember, trust is determined by the other person’s perception. Therefore:

Q: What can I do and plan to do to ensure each player feels I care about them and about their success, that I have the competence to help them succeed, and I am honest and operate with integrity in all I do?

Build Buy-In and Dedication From the Ground Up

True buy-in means each player is on board because they want to be. They see value in the right standards, attitudes and actions.

Q: How will be build buy-in from the ground up on our complete A-Game as a team?

‘Recruit’ and Develop Leaders and Influencers on Your A-Game

Leadership will not be strong if there is a lack of clarity on what you need them to do. It will also not happen if they are not bought in, or if they do not have the trust of their teammates. That is why you need greater clarity on your team’s A-Game and must have their buy-in on those standards.

Q: Are our leaders and key influencers fully bought in on our standards of Attitudes and Actions? Both on and off the field? If not, what will be our plan for bringing them along?

Q: What blind spots might we have for what our leaders and veterans need? How can we best equip them to lead and be a positive influence, rather than merely telling them what we want them to do?

Strengthen Your Culture by Building Beneath the Surface

To strengthen your culture, focus on connection in Coach-Player and Player-Player relationships. To build culture, see Trust as both the doorway and the glue that forms stronger bonds. Focus on building true buy-in on your A-Game Attitudes, Actions, and what you are ABOVE. Culture is substance, not surface.

There are five tools that can help you optimize your influence and create special meaning. Those five tools are ceremonies, rituals, physical objects, stories with a message, and special themes and mottos. You can see, however, that these tools can be put to better use when you have completed the earlier steps. These tools can be used to reinforce each of the building blocks, but if you focus on culture first it sets you up for a scattered approach rather than a strategic one.

What’s driving the conversation in your locker room? Email Managing Editor Dan Guttenplan or Tweet us @fnfcoaches. Don’t forget to use that hashtag #FNFCoachesTalk