By: Carla Nicholls, Lead of Paralympic High Performance - Athletics Canada (Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada), CAAWS Leadership Facilitator at the Canadian Association for the Advancement of Women and Sport and Physical Activity (CAAWS), and Former Head Track and Field/Cross Country Coach at the University of Regina
Originally Published in: Winning Ways of Women Coaches
Provided by: Human Kinetics
Being a part of a high-performance culture team is exciting, yet these environments can be extremely vulnerable and cannot be taken for granted. Your culture needs to be continuously fostered and challenged to ensure it remains intact. One moment of success does not mean that the pattern will continue. A true winning culture achieves performance outcomes and goals as the norm, not the rarity and certainly not by accident. Creating sustainability in beliefs, behaviors, and expectations truly defines a successful culture.
Remember my first university team that was comprised of 17 athletes and was at the bottom of the conference standings? By the last year that I was head coach of that university team, it had blossomed into a full competitive roster of 40 men and 40 women athletes. That year we had missed winning the conference championship by a single point! One point behind one of the strongest teams in the country with a history of winning over the past 30 years! I wanted that win more than life itself at the time, even though I knew what we had done was a huge accomplishment for our team, to get as far as we did. What happened the next year after I left the university to take on the role at our national sport organization was even more impressive. That next season, and multiple seasons after that, the team continued to bring home the conference banner. Throughout the years of making changes that mattered and committing to focus on the culture that needed to be changed within the program, a legacy was created in which the sustainability of the culture, with expected behaviors for all team members, created continuous performance gains.
So why does culture eat strategy for breakfast? Creating a successful strategy or plan is incredibly important for coaches as we rely heavily on our planning and our goal setting and identifying the areas to improve to ensure the success of our athletes and teams. We use these plans to stay on task and to ensure we don't lose track of the list of items that need to be accomplished. Sadly, all your hard work may be for nothing as these strategies and plans quickly become worthless if you did not take into consideration the strengths of and input from your team members. Your team and your approach become very targeted toward solving immediate problems and less about what can you actually achieve together as athletes and support staff alike. If you commit to targeting and building your team's culture as a priority, you gain the opportunity to build a solid foundation of excellence created through a shared sense of values, respect, and input from individuals. The belief of what truly can be possible begins to become more clear. Strategies tend to shift directions, often to address current needs, whereas your team's culture really becomes that driving force behind achieving sustained success.
Within this performance culture, as the bar of expected performance potential begins to rise, you will learn very quickly that achieving goals as a group of individuals far outweighs the potential of each member of that team. The team members build off each other's strengths and successes. It takes an effective leader who is able to bring a diverse group of individuals together and extract the very best out of everyone to build this foundation and to create that powerful sustainability to be great.