Creating a positive team culture is an important part of building a strong team and stimulating an effective learning environment. But what factors influence team culture, and how can we manipulate them to give our players the best possible experiences? Below, we consider what makes culture, how to build a team culture in a grassroots setting, and the importance of forging shared values with our players.

In This Article

What Is a Team Culture?

The concept of team culture can be difficult to define. “It’s something that’s constantly changing,” explains PDP Co-Founder Dave Wright. “It’s fluid — not led by one individual but by a collective. There are many influences and moving parts within it.”

According to Dr. John Alder, international coach developer and Head of Performance Pathways at English Institute of Sport, team culture encompasses the beliefs, attitudes, purposes, and values belonging to the individuals within our club. “Think about these ideas in relation to how people interact, behave, and live their daily lives,” suggests Alder. “Culture is a bubble. And unless you’re inside, it’s really hard to evaluate it.”

Creating Shared Values in Sports

Building team culture requires us to first create a set of shared values within our team. “A fundamental function of a coach is to lead the culture, but it’s not a hydraulic link,” explains Alder, who advocates ‘co-creating’ over coaches barking commands at players. “Coaches need to facilitate shared experiences, so people can develop the same shared values, attitudes, and beliefs. Exercises that empower, engage, and encourage collaboration can lead to that kind of ownership.”

In an effective co-creating environment, coaches will provide a framework and guide players towards answers while also giving them the space to express what is important to them. This will help players feel like the team culture is their own — not something forced upon them — and provides a basis for coaches and teammates to hold each other accountable. This shared ownership model is integral to getting buy-in from the entire team.

Building Team Culture and Getting Buy-In From Players

Team building can also be integral to unifying players and laying the foundations for a positive culture. According to Wright, we can foster a sense of togetherness in our teams by introducing activities that are more focused on fun. “Sometimes you have to lighten things up and alleviate the pressure of football to bring people together. This could mean occasionally trying other sports or facilitating a team event at the start of the year. There’s no magic solution, but it’s important to have some variety.”

Establishing principles within your team is another fundamental part of building team culture. “Facilitating discussions to create values outlining what your team stands for is a great way to start,” suggests Wright. “It can provide a really good anchor to tie things to.”

A culture takes on a life of its own and evolves,” adds Reed Maltbie, TEDx Speaker and holder of a Masters in Sports Psychology and Early Childhood Education. “Whether or not we choose to be proactive, a culture will develop — and if there’s an absence of intentionality, it will probably go awry.”

As such, it’s vital that we are proactive in establishing a positive culture and strive to generate buy-in from all of our players. One simple method is to tell players why we think a team principle is important rather than simply repeating it. For example, if a player is late for training, we might explain that we have limited practice time and that they have just wasted several minutes of it. Thus, by helping kids to understand the intent behind team values, we support them in developing attitudes and approaches that will also benefit them in their lives beyond football.

Naturally, it’s also vital that we model the behaviour we expect of our players; if we have a mantra of ‘on time is late’, we cannot be setting up the playing area two minutes before our session starts. As adults, we must set a positive example and exhibit the values we ask of our players. If we’re dependable, our players will learn from us.

Learning From Other Teams

Taking team culture ideas from other clubs — particularly elite organisations — can be appealing, but it’s important to appreciate the context of our own coaching environment. What works for FC Barcelona may not work for our under-9s.

“You have to think about where you’re working, who you’re working with, what age your players are, and what level they’re at,” explains Wright. When building a culture, it needs to be authentic and relevant to us and our team. Team culture examples obtained from books or professional organisations might work well in elite sports but be less suited to grassroots settings.

“Authenticity is the big one,” Wright concludes. “I think we should all seek inspiration and new ideas and information, but being authentic is key.”

The Key Points

  • Team culture is the product of the beliefs, attitudes, purposes, and values of every individual player and coach within our team.
  • We should work with players to create shared values, giving them a sense of ownership over the culture within their team.
  • Helping kids to understand why certain principles are important can be a great way to encourage buy-in and support them in developing useful life skills.
  • When taking inspiration from other teams, we must remember to be authentic and only use ideas that are relevant to our own environment.

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