I just returned from a great clinic. It had about 120 coaches from high school to the SEC. It started as a strength clinic but then took a turn right in the middle of it, and the topic switched to culture. It became interactive and was one of the greatest experiences I have had at a clinic. The forum just kind of happened, and all individuals there just started to tell their experiences, why and when they had winning programs, and why and when they had losing programs. It was an in-depth, well-thought-out discussion that was spontaneous at the same time.

I was one of the few strength coaches in session, being that most of them were all football coaches. There were state champion head football coaches, national champions, and everything in between. There was even one high school coach there who had won at least one state championship every decade since the 1970s! Incredible people.

We all had thoughts on what we think a winning culture is, why things work, or why they don’t work. Not so much of an all-out bitch session but rather an honest-to-goodness look at the “why.” As I listened and took notes, some common themes kept popping up from all of the different coaches, and that is when I thought of writing this article.

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I feel that developing a culture is the most important thing we do. Without a culture, we are just hamsters on a wheel. Working hard and going nowhere. Our teams may train hard and get after it, but year after year, they will fall short on the playing field. Why is that? I ask myself this question all of the time, and I know it has to do with culture. That is why some people win wherever they go and some don’t. It really is true. It is like they said about the great Bear Bryant: “He could take his and beat yours, then take yours and beat his.” It is not the X’s and O’s; he was never known as an innovator. It was the way his team did things that made them winners.

Herbert Kratky ©

Herbert Kratky ©

Here are some of the common themes that kept coming up, and hopefully, I can do them justice.


The first and most important that stood out like a beacon is that you had better care about your players and show them that you care! This was a huge theme from the winners in the room. A lot of people say they care, but do you really show it? Do you ever ask your players about anything besides their respective sports? How they did on a big test? What they want to be when they grow up? I could feel the passion these guys had for their players, and I basically said that if you are not in it to change lives, then get the hell out of this business! Do not provide the lip-service answer: really get to know your players – they will do anything for you once they know you truly care.


The second-biggest theme is a hierarchy. The boss is the boss, and everyone knows and respects this. He can delegate all he wants, too, but the buck stops with him. Leadership starts from the top down.  Once the boss is in place, EVERYONE must be on the same page! EVERYONE in the organization. From the athletic director to the brand new volunteer. If you are not on the same page as the boss, then you got to go. You will never be successful until this happens. There can be no shelter, no place for them to hide or get away with anything. On the flip side, communication from the boss is critical. Everyone should know exactly what is expected of them, from the players to the coaches, support staff, academics, you name it. Rules are rules. Want the two fastest ways to know if your culture is broken? If you have ever wondered how you are supposed to act or what you are supposed to say in a situation that you think is wrong, and you are afraid to say something to make it right, then it is broken. Let’s say, for example, that you are on the road and everyone is supposed to wear his or her travel suit. You get off your bus, and a “star” player gets off the other bus wearing a hooded sweatshirt. The only guy on the entire team and is walking in with his position coach. You want to tell him to put on his travel suit jacket but don’t, afraid that his position coach may get mad, etc. News flash, you have no culture. The other glaring truth? Watch when the coach calls up the team to talk. If everyone, from the coaches and players, is in the circle with eyes up and listening, then you are good. But if there are players not paying attention, coaches offset from the group talking amongst themselves… you guessed it – no culture. When the boss talks and everyone listens, what he says is important.

Weight Room

The third-most common point that came up is that the weight room is important! All of them felt that it gave them an edge not just physically but also by being a way for the team to build camaraderie and to strive for common goals together. It did not matter if the goal was perfect attendance or everyone getting a 10-pound personal best. The individual/common goals set in the weight room they felt were a huge factor toward success. This one really intrigued me because I was one of the few strength coaches in attendance and always thought that it was the physical aspect, not so much the goal setting. It is something that I think as strength coaches we take for granted because we do it every day, but it matters to those coaches. If they did not have a strength coach who was on the same page as them, they would do it themselves, and a lot of them did. It was the commitment they wanted to see from the coaches and the players – basically who is going to work when no one is looking. If they had everyone in line, from the weight room to all of their coaches, they felt like they could do anything.

It was a great experience, and I hope this opened your eyes to some of the big picture we need to step out and see. Show your players you care about them, be in line with the boss, and help him or her to implement the overall plan for what he or she wants from the weight room. It will be exciting to see where it takes you.