How To Introduce & Maintain A Positive Club Culture

In this article, we look at how building a positive club culture can bring huge benefits, from better teamwork to increased accountability.

Oct 28th 2021

Written by The Coaching Manual

At any successful sporting organisation, there will be signs of a positive club culture when you look a little deeper. Players fighting for a unified cause; a sense of accountability; a lack of selfishness or ego.

For all those reasons and more, instilling a positive club culture should be a top priority for a Director of Coaching (DOC), but there is no reason why smaller grassroots clubs can’t aim to achieve the same environment.

Is it ever too late to change a negative, ingrained culture?

Poor results, one or more dominant personalities in the dressing room, players feeling excluded are just some of the reasons why there might be a negative culture within a club.

Negative cultures are not exclusive to football, just take the All Blacks Rugby team back in 2005. They were widely regarded as one of the most successful teams in the world across any sport but after a rare defeat, a group of senior players went on a drinking binge. An event that Head Coach Graham Henry later described as “totally unacceptable”.

Henry and his assistant Wayne Smith along with the team captain and other senior players quickly realised that the culture had become toxic and therefore moved to resolve it.

Smith explained, “We changed the paradigm, creating a leadership group, creating more accountability, giving more ownership, and [implementing] dual management of the team."

After a disappointing quarter-final exit at the next Rugby World Cup, the All Blacks responded by lifting the trophy in 2011 and retaining it four years later. This shows that no amount of historic success can guarantee a sustained positive club culture, it must be consciously maintained.

Also, by identifying negativity and taking decisive steps to change the status quo, it's possible to transform it into something much more positive.

How to build a new club culture

After identifying that the culture at their club needs improvement, a coach should be realistic with their targets and expectations. Following these steps will help to lay the foundations for positive cultural change:

Identifying a 'leadership group' and trusting their decisions

Everyone at the club needs to be on the same page when it comes to positive club culture, it's not simply something a DOC can define and enforce from the top down.

To give these changes the best chance of success it’s can prove useful to form a leadership group made up of players and staff. Everyone in this group should be consulted on any big decisions and their opinions and judgment should be trusted.

Check out this guide as it will help you to better understand your players so you know what stage of physical and mental development they are at. Which should give you a good idea of who could be included in the ‘leadership group’.

Defining and building on your existing club culture

Every club no matter what the level will have some sort of existing club culture. Focus on defying what it is, the following questions are useful to ask the people at the club:

  • What are our shared beliefs?
  • What are our most important values?
  • What behaviours do we expect from our teammates and colleagues?
  • What is our vision for the club, and is our current culture holding us back?

It may become apparent that some aspects of the existing club culture are positive, and others less so. Rather than completely starting afresh, work with what you’ve got - concentrate on enhancing the positives and use the negatives as examples of behaviour that is no longer acceptable.

Setting joint performance goals

One of the best ways to get everyone pulling in the right direction is to establish some clear shared performance goals - perhaps with a club-wide incentive up for grabs if they are achieved.

Importantly, everyone’s shared goals should be in line with the newly defined club culture. If your shared values are all about encouraging players to have fun and express themselves creatively on the pitch, your goals shouldn't revolve around win/loss ratios and league positions.

Check out this guide to help you understand what success might mean for your club/team throughout a season.

Permitting 'positive' conflict between players and coaches

Conflict isn’t always a negative situation, if your club culture is strong enough it can be turned into a positive. Rather than shying away from difficult conversations, encourage players and coaches to voice their grievances with one another - provided it's done constructively.

Not only does this stop negative sentiment from boiling away under the surface (before inevitably erupting down the line), but it also encourages a joint approach to solving problems.

Perhaps most importantly, allowing conflicts to be aired positively - through honest, constructive discussion, without causing offence - demonstrates that you trust your players. Granting them autonomy off the field will encourage them to think for themselves and find solutions on the field.

This guide could prove useful as it looks at players dealing with their emotions. Therefore, it will allow coaches to have a deeper understanding of who would be suited to have a ‘positive’ conflict.

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