The first thing people say about your program reveals a lot about what you emphasize in the training of your athletes. If you ask someone to describe your program, what will their first words be? Whether people say it is intense, relentless, tough, technical or even smart, these are all great indicators that you are doing something right. There are no right or wrong words; it is just the first thing that pops into people’s minds when they think of what you do. As good as some of those are, no matter the level, sport, or athletes you train as a strength coach, you should be trying to build something bigger — something bigger and better than yourself.

You work too hard and put in too many hours to let one word describe you. We all need to focus what we do out of those words to find the one thing we stand for and turn it into something that represents everything. You should be trying to build a culture. When I started in this business, the most successful schools were said to be “the program.” That was what we reached for every day: to hold the title of “the program.”

MORE: Identifying Why — 4 Steps to Perfecting Your Program Philosophy

In this day and age, “the program” has been replaced by "culture." If the first thing that comes to mind from someone when talking about what you do is culture, you are way ahead of the game. Saying the word culture means that everything you are doing is firing on all cylinders, moving forward in the right direction, and is not going to change when some athletes, coaches, or administrators leave.

Culture stands the test of time. All those previous words I mentioned can fit into your program, or your culture can just be based on intensity or whatever you want it to be about. The point is that you want it to represent all facets of what you do: every workout, every player interaction, every game, everything. I am going to give you what represents culture to me and to our staff to use as an example. As I have always said about programming, you know deep down what is right for your situation and athletes. No two schools are alike, and we all have different athletes, obstacles, and challenges to overcome. Set it up your way, find what will make the most impact with your team, and get to it.

People Holding Culture

C — Creativity

As strength coaches, we are always blending the lines between art and science. That blending should promote creativity at the highest level. You must be creative in programming to keep athletes engaged, but it must also serve a purpose, address a need, be scientifically and fundamentally sound, and be as safe as possible for the athletes to perform. Creativity should be used when figuring out how to best reach and communicate with your athletes. You might use Twitter, Instagram, or just plain texts or emails. Whatever is best for you, your athletes, and your situation become a master at it. Creativity also helps with your staff. They may not get paid enough, but we all must be creative into how to best take care of them. More gear, a fishing trip, and anything that can make it better for them if you can’t get them more money will go a long way.

U — Understanding

Understanding is a key component in building a culture, and it is to be used in many different ways. You must understand what you are doing and why you are doing it. Don’t do things just to do them; understand the purpose of what you are doing and how to do it best. Once you have a clear understanding of things, it will permeate down through your staff, then to the players, and everyone will be on the same page, which is critical to building a championship culture. If everyone is not on the same page, it is time to write a new book. You must also take the time to understand the different backgrounds and paths that athletes, coaches, and support staff have had to take to get to where they are. Understanding what makes a single parent inner city kid tick is just as important as understanding which staff member runs the bag drill the best during an agility session. Understanding is the root of everything we do.

L — Legacy

Legacy is a huge part of culture because it gets people to think of the long term and what they want to be remembered for. Legacy is when you are doing everything right and making a difference in an athlete’s life, not just athletically but personally as well. When you really change someone for the better, the positive impact on his life will translate to those around him, making a brotherhood that is hard to break. You do that consistently day in and day out and he will come back in 10 years as a successful adult and find a way to give back. You helped him, he sees that you are still running things the right way, and the legacy is validated.

T — Training

I do not have to say much here: training is the core of what we do. Training athletes to the best of our ability—the smart, right way to get kids better—is critical to our success. Training is also important not just for ourselves physically, but also because we should never stop learning. New training techniques, staff building, leadership, and teaching tips all fall under training and should be treated with the same amount of intensity as a workout session. You are either growing or dying; there is no in-between.

U — Unwavering

This is stored in the belief that you understand exactly what and why you are doing something, and you are not going to give in on your principals or path you are taking, no matter the distractions or temptations that come your way. You are either in or out — period. You can only be all-in if you have firm belief in what you are doing, and your whole program feels and acts the same way. If you are supposed to touch the line, you touch the line. Coaches that don’t call out the perpetrator should just drop the "perpe" in perpetrator, because that is what they are: traitors. If you let one slide then you are wavering on whether you are doing the right thing or not. Always do the right thing. Call them out. Once you do it, the players will start to do it, and then it becomes part of what you are building: an unwavering decision to always touch the line!

R — Respect

I have a hard and fast rule in what I know coaching is, and I have used it for a long time: never give an athlete something they cannot physically do. If they do not know how to do something, teach them how to do it. Once they learn how to do it, demand that they do it right every time. If they don’t, tell and teach them why what they are doing is wrong and fix it. You can be as hard as you want on players and still have their respect, as long as you teach them how to fix what they are doing wrong. I don’t make excuses; I am demanding on my players. When they do something, they hear it, we correct it, and move on. I think the key to respect is that when they do something right, I yell even louder. Don’t focus on just the negative; focus on teaching, correcting, fixing, and then celebrating. It will go a long way.

E — Effort

Effort should be put in every corner of your program. You cannot build a culture without effort. Effort drives the train. You cannot be a great coach without putting effort into it. You cannot be a great player without putting effort into it. You cannot have a razor sharp staff without putting effort into it. Lack of effort is the number one pet peeve of mine. I hate it with every fiber of my being, and I am relentless on players or staff who don’t give it. Effort is trying your hardest to achieve a task, be it small or large, and it just makes no sense to me why you would not want to get better. Effort rules.

  • Creativity
  • Understanding
  • Legacy
  • Training
  • Unwavering
  • Respect
  • Effort

This is just a small list of what it takes to build a winning culture, and remember it will not happen overnight. You must build it brick-by-brick, staff member by staff member, player-by-player, idea-by-idea, and session-by-session. Be unwavering in your principals, set high standards, and help everyone achieve them.