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All great teams have a defining culture, and youth teams should have one too. My teams are defined by timeless virtues that all players can develop, regardless of age or ability: class, hustle, heart, love, respect, and quiet confidence. The ideal I strive for is to have my players recognized by their brand of play. Skill and success are important aspects of the brand, but I trust that those are inevitable by-products of the most fundamental aspects of the brand of baseball I teach.
I care first about how my players carry themselves – at practice, before and after games, in games, and in their community. I want opposing coaches, parents, and future coaches to recognize how well coached my players have been. Before I even meet my team, I consciously re-visit my value system and take inventory of what I stand for as a role model, and what universal virtues I believe will best serve my players in life. I then use this value system as my guiding ethic for all subsequent coaching actions.
Establish a team culture first and cultivate it throughout the season, but do so implicitly whenever possible. I’ve never believed much in grand declarations of values; too often this comes across as sanctimonious. Instead, I draw upon my private list of values to generate my coaching ideas. Think about what life traits you want your players to develop and retain, and then coach to those values. If I can’t directly link a drill or a message or a team rule to a defining value, it doesn’t get used.
My players don’t need to hear these virtues listed by name. Instead, they first need to witness them in me. If I want my players to show up ready to play with passion every day, I need to show up ready to coach with passion every day. If I want classy players, I need to always demonstrate class. If I want my players to hustle, I need to hustle. If I want them to play with heart, I need to coach with heart. If I don’t want them to ever lose their cool, I can’t lose my cool.
I am not just coaching skills, I am coaching values, and ultimately, a culture. I would love to hear from our readers, what virtues do you want to instill in your players? How do you communicate the values to them in your words and in your actions? What defines a great team culture?
Bruce Reed is a youth sports coach, writer, educator, and father of two. He has coached high school and Little League baseball, youth soccer, basketball, and football. Click here to view Bruce’s bio.