In my last article, I quoted Theodore Roosevelt in saying, “Do the best you can, with what you have, where you are.” That quote really hit home with me this last weekend. I had the honor of speaking at a strength clinic at West Point High School in Mississippi. It was the best-run conference I have ever been to, with strength coaches from all areas and levels, from the SEC to high school and everywhere in-between. A variety of topics, methods, and techniques were covered. The best part was that at the end of the second day, we were able to be a part of one of their off-season workouts. It really stirred up a lot of memories for me. I have done my whole career track in reverse.

The greatest job I have ever had was my first one. Being the head strength coach at Bloomfield High School was the best job I have ever had. I have spent the last 18 years chasing what I had at that school. I have come close at some of my college jobs, especially the team that won back-to-back conference championships. I have loved all of my players just the same. But the challenge, lack of funds, and the impact those kids made on me will never be forgotten.

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Those players were so hungry and worked so hard that it is difficult to put into words. I remember after we won our first state championship, they had worked so hard and fought through so much that I told them we were going to take a week off and then get ready for the spring weightlifting championship. I remember walking down the hallway the Monday after the championship game and going past the weight room. The chain that held the door open and the padlock that kept it there was broken and on the floor. I walked in, ready to kill whoever had done it. To my surprise, the entire team was standing there waiting for me, and they said, “We don’t need no time off.” At that moment, everything that we had preached to them about culture, dedication, sacrifice, and hard work became part of their very being, and we never looked back.

I saw the same thing at West Point High School this weekend. Those kids had just won the state championship, and they were working out with the eye of the tiger: like they had never won or accomplished a thing, but they knew they were on their way. It was awesome seeing that again. I also had the privilege of hearing Coach Niblett from Hoover High School in Alabama speak. He has won three state championships and is a nationally-known coach and speaker. He gave one of the best talks I have ever heard on building team culture. Believe me, they preach it and live it. He never spoke about x’s and o's, this player or that player — just their culture and how they build their team.

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After the clinic, I had a five-and-a-half hour ride back home, and it gave me a lot of time to think. Looking back on my career and studying other programs and individuals, I was really trying to answer some questions. What is the way to run a program? What are the common denominators of success? Why do some places win and win, and others don’t, even with the same type of athletes and situations? I pondered on this for hours and came up with the same answer: culture. Team culture trumps chaos anytime.

The other conclusion I came up with was that not all cultures are the same. Different teams have different ways of doing things, but when those things are program-wide, things get done and a culture begins to take shape, followed by winning. What comes first: a chicken or the egg? Winning or culture? It is culture all the way. Once you get an established culture, and it becomes a part of the athletes' very being, you will be successful in whatever you are trying to accomplish. This goes for sports, business, family — you name it. Once there are parameters in place of what you are going to and not going to accept—and you follow through every time—everyday success will follow.

All cultures are different, and usually, take on the personality of their leader. Clemson and Alabama both have different cultures, but their staffs and players all get their lead from the head coach. Their programs run like well-oiled machines. Whatever your culture is or whatever you want it to be, you must mold it from the top down.

Take this as an example: If you take a glass of water and push from the bottom, what happens? The water spills out over the sides and makes a mess. Chaos. But what happens when you push on the water from the top? It becomes hard as a rock, solid and not going anywhere. Success. I have been a part of an almost perfect culture a couple times in my career, in both high school and college. All of them had different head coaches and were run differently, but all had successful outcomes: winning championships or coming close.

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During that five-and-a-half hour drive, I also got to thinking about why some programs succeed and others fail. To me it is as plain as day: not everyone is pulling in the same direction. Sun Tzu in "The Art of War" had a great saying about armies, and you can simply insert your staff to understand what I am saying. He said, “An army of lions led by a sheep will be defeated by an army of sheep led by a lion. An army of lions led by a lion will never be defeated.”

What that means is that leadership is the most important thing in building culture. You must be a lion and surround yourselves with lions for this to work. If your leader is not a lion or cares nothing about culture, you will never win. The second biggest problem is if athletes have one place in your program or business where they can hide. If this is the case, you have a sheep in your midst. I really think this is the missing piece that causes a lot of programs to not be successful: one or two people are not on the same page as the leader, and it becomes a hole in the hose. Instead of applying pressure at the end of it, you are feeling the pressure shooting out from the hole, and the result is a dribble instead of a strong stream.

You must do everything you can to hire the right people, get everyone on the same page, and make sure there are no leaks. Also, remember that a culture that works at one place may not work at another, and adjustments must be made in that regard. Don’t give up on your principles, but you have to be innovative and know what that team needs and how it will fit into your culture the best way when starting at a new place. Some of the people you hired may have been great in one place, but may not be at another. Make sure you do your homework on this one.

In closing, I want to state that when I talk about being a lion, it means being a person with integrity, having knowledge of your craft, developing a plan, and knowing how to implement it. From what I have seen over the last few years, a lot of people think they are a lion because of their roar, not their bite. Build a culture, build it the right way with the right people, and be an army of lions. Don’t be a sheep.