I have told you before that I often listen to the sports talk show, The Herd with Colin Cowherd. Whether it be from Cowherd himself, or one of his guests, I hear many great ideas and concepts on that show that fit right into many of the concepts of success that I talk about in my posts, videos and podcast episodes.
Today I want to talk about something that I heard Lincoln Riley say on that show a few weeks ago. Riley is the college football coach who brought the Oklahoma Sooners back to college football prominence over the last few years and who is now going to try to do the same for the University of Southern California football program.
When discussing what he is going to try to bring to USC, one of his key points was something that I talk about often—having a Team-First Attitude. Riley said:
The first thing to me that comes to mind is the culture and accountability within the program… If you want to have a championship program, if you want to truly compete and be at the top, you better have a locker room that’s about that. You better have guys that are about each other, guys that care about the program, guys that want to win, and guys that are able to put that in front of the personal accolades and all the individual needs and wants that are out in the world right now because the crazy thing is when you care about the team and when culture is important and you just want to win, the individual things come. And you see that with the great players in any sport right now. The majority of the great ones are great team guys, and a lot of their success has started because of that mentality. We’re going to do everything possible to make sure that when somebody walks into our football program, when somebody gets around our program, they feel that.
While that is a long quote, he says a lot in each sentence. So let’s break them down.
The first thing to me that comes to mind is the culture and accountability within the program.
Two huge buzzwords in sports and the world today are culture and accountability. And while they may be buzzwords, there is a good reason they are buzzwords—they are HUGELY important to creating the kind of outcomes that you want.
Riley is saying that the first thing that developing a program starts with is creating a culture and then holding people (yourself & others) accountable to that culture.
Great teams don’t leave their culture to chance. They are intentional about creating what they want.
To do that, you must first know what it is that you want to create, and then you must be accountable to all of the elements necessary to the creation of that culture.
If you want to have a championship program, if you want to truly compete and be at the top, you better have a locker room that’s about that.
The locker room is a place that you often hear coaches and media types talk about as a special place. Sometimes they are literally talking about the physical locker room as a place where a team meets. It is like a sanctuary, a sacred place where teams spend a lot of time together, forging the bonds that make them a team.
More often, though, they are referring to the general feeling that a team has about itself and about each other. “You can lose a game, but you can’t lose the locker room,” is a statement I have heard for years.
This means that while coaches may have teams that lose some games, if coaches lose the trust and faith that their team has in them and in each other, problems will compound and become insurmountable.
Championship-minded coaches work to create great team cultures of excellence where that does not happen. They intentionally work to build cohesive units where all are focused on each other and where they never lose the locker room to any outside forces that could sneak in and destroy it.
You better have guys that are about each other, guys that care about the program, guys that want to win, and guys that are able to put that in front of the personal accolades and all the individual needs and wants that are out in the world right now, because the crazy thing is when you care about the team and when culture is important and you just want to win, the individual things come.
While the first focus for coaches to create success is developing a culture and being accountable to it, the biggest key to that happening is having players who are willing to put the needs of the team ahead of their own individual needs in everything they do.
While many players come to a team setting with this mentality, many do not. The more who have it, the easier it is to infuse other players with it and build it into the entire program.
In these kinds of programs, the players help the coaches hold others accountable to this team-first standard. The peer pressure of teammates who are all about the team is strong, and it can help lead those players who are not focused as much on the team towards the team culture.
However, some players will never buy into this concept. It is critical that coaches focus most of their attention on those who are totally committed to the team and start weeding out those who are not.
While some of the selfish players who are not team-first people may be talented, their talents will not be enough to overcome the damage they can inflict on the culture. Coaches (and teammates) need to work with these players and hold them accountable to the standards to try to bring them on board with the rest of the team. But after a while, if they don’t come on board, they must be set free, and others with a true team-first attitude need to be brought in to take their place.
The beauty of this mindset is that the more you get people focused on becoming the best team and teammates they can be, the more the individual successes they seek will happen. By giving themselves over to the team, they receive so much more from the team. It is the ultimate win-win situation in team sports.
And you see that with the great players in any sport right now. The majority of the great ones are great team guys, and a lot of their success has started because of that mentality.
These concepts are not just some “coach-speak” from Lincoln Riley. He says if you look at the great players in any sport, the main focus for most of them is on being their best for their teams. That focus has in turn led to them having great individual success, as well. Again, it is the greatest win-win possible.
We’re going to do everything possible to make sure that when somebody walks into our football program, when somebody gets around our program, they feel that.
Coaches cannot leave their cultures to chance if they want to succeed. If they want to create successful cultures of excellence, they must be purposeful about doing so. Therefore, they will lead their teams by doing everything they can to intentionally create that.
Because of this intentionality in creating a great culture, people who join the team, as well as others who are around the team, will feel it.
By the actions they see from the coaches and players on a daily basis.
Your team’s culture is not your words or signs on the walls around your facility that say what you want to be.
Your culture is who you are, not who you say you are.
It is how you act… every… single… day.
Because it is based on actions more than words, your culture will be obvious to anyone who observes you.
Consider the above statements from Lincoln Riley as you build your own teams.
Are you trying to win some games?
Or are you trying to build a team?
Be intentional about building a culture of excellence and watch your success grow and the number of people who want to join you on the journey multiply.
That will be the ultimate win-win for any of you who commit to doing so.