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Culture vs. Strategy

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Coaching team sports is one of the most difficult tasks there is. Balancing the needs of an individual player for the needs of the team is something that each coach struggles with, especially with limited time. As a coach of a team, especially prior to the collegiate level, time is precious and at the utmost importance. How you spend your time will ultimately shape the foundation of your team, and the individuals on it. So how should you approach spending your time in order to get the most out of your players and team?

There’s really three approaches to the way teams spend their time over the course of a season:

  1. The Strategy Approach: Spend your time strategizing in order to win. These are the teams with countless signs, bunt plays, 1st and 3rd plays, picks, and trick plays. When you see a team like this, you can be assured that most of their practice time is spent on practicing these witty new concepts that will help them strategically outsmart their next opponent.
  1. The Individual Skills Approach: Spend your time developing individual skills. These are the teams that spend all of their practice time doing drills, taking ground balls, fly balls, hitting, and base running. Teams who spend all their time with this approach often create similar types of players. The players often have similar swing characteristics and fundamentals on the field.
  1. The Culture Approach: Spend your time developing a culture. These are the teams that spend the majority of the time developing a culture of excellence through a set of clear core values.

A good team will find a way to balance all three of these approaches to get the most out of their capabilities. But all three of these approaches are not equal in importance, and therefore should not be equal in time spent.

The most important, without a doubt, is building a culture. Culture precedes and overrides everything. It’s the base off which your program runs. If you have a culture of excellence, it sets a standard from that point forward for everything you do.

Few coaches truly take the time to mold a culture that will bring excellence to their team or program. They’re so anxious to win now, that they neglect the most important aspect of winning later. Instead of taking the time to build a culture that will coincide with their beliefs, coaches jump right into the strategy or individual skills approach thinking that it will help them win tomorrow’s game.

What about the end of the season? Or the bigger picture, the player’s lives?

The first thing that must be done in order to be a successful team is to create a culture. There’s multiple ways to do this, but it centers around a few core values that must be conditioned to believe are the law.

For example, a core value could be “100% effort, 100% of the time.”

This value must be backed up with strong reasons for existing, and consequences for not upholding the standard. If a player fails to run full speed all the way through the base, the whole team is punished with extra sprints.

Another core value could be “accountability”, which ties into the last example. The whole team is accountable for individual player’s actions. In other words, the action of one, affects the entire group. This is an extremely powerful core value that helps build a culture because no one wants to let their teammates down. Often times, players are okay with letting themselves down, but rarely are they okay with letting their teammates down.

Nick Saban has built a culture of excellence like a machine. A machine capable of holding excellence in tact through an automated system of core values. His success at Alabama didn’t happen by accident. And his consistent success is almost unrivaled in college athletics today. He built it from scratch. He molded it. Shaped it. Tweaked it. And solidified it.

And this is where Nick Saban is a genius. His daily objectives are not centered around the end goal of winning a championship. His daily objectives are centered around the process it takes to win a championship.

Process refers to the commitment to a set of core values that will allow you to reach your end goal.

These core values are upheld from the top of the organization to the bottom. Coaches, players, training staff, and volunteers are all aware of the expectations and standard set. The incoming freshman are not just introduced to the core values, but are made aware of them through action. If they don’t uphold the standard, they are reprimanded not just by the coaches, but by the other players who uphold the culture of the program.

Culture is the gem of all things related to team sports, because it sets the foundation for everything you do. Your core values must be upheld through your individual skill practice as well as your strategy practice. Every last detail in practice or games is measured through the core values.

Understand that building this culture takes time. Just like the culture Nick Saban built at Alabama didn’t happen overnight, neither will yours. You must sacrifice some time that could otherwise be used planning trick plays to win tomorrow’s game. This is why high school coaches with limited time get impatient and abandon the culture approach to the more easily applicable strategy and individual skills approach. But if you truly take the time to build and emphasize a culture of excellence through a set of core values, you will experience the ultimate power of a team: A team coached by the players.

Once this happens, you automatically enhance the productivity of all of your practices from then on! When the players truly understand the culture of the team or program, they become coaches of their own. This is the culture of excellence that ultimately wins long-term.

So before you jump into the strategy and individual skills approach, take the time to build a culture through a set of core values.

Remember, strategy may win an individual play or game, but culture wins championships and changes lives.

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About Brian Hamm

My name is Brian Hamm and I am all about "Baseball Development". Through my journey as a high school and college player, I always felt that a competitive advantage eluded me. I constantly researched and discovered new resources, ideas, and theories that have shaped how I coach today. It’s my goal to work relentlessly in order to give my players, clients, and coaches the biggest competitive advantage that will allow them to reach their full potential. My mission is to spread my knowledge to baseball players around the world and help change the developmental process forever.

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