We’ve established in previous articles that culture is probably the biggest buzzword in the coaching profession today. Every coach in America wants to build a successful, sustainable culture, but pinning down exactly how to do that will vary depending on who you talk to.

While how to create the right type of culture is a hotly discussed topic, the characteristics of an undesirable culture don’t get talked about enough. In this piece, we’re going to tackle how to identify when your team culture needs change.

Whether you’ve been a head coach for decades, or are just starting off at your first head coaching job (like I happen to be), there are a number of tell-tale signs that the culture in your program is in need of change.

Here are a handful of them, in no particular order.

1) Your veteran players aren’t accurate depictions of your program’s core values and beliefs
This one is especially true of coaches that have led the program for a few years now. If your older players, who have been in your program for a few years now, aren’t accurately portraying the values that you feel are important and feel like you’ve been emphasizing, then you have to be seriously concerned as to what kind of example is being set for the younger players that are the future of your program.

2) Your best players aren’t the ones with the best work ethic
Every coach talks and dreams about about having the best players on your roster also being the hardest workers, but that’s often not always the case. When those players understand how important it is that they be the example of the right work ethic, you’re capable of something special. On the flip side, if your best players would rather lay back and rely on their talent and shy away from hard work, that’s a dangerous message that is being sent to the rest of the program.

3) There is selfishness among your coaches and coaching staff
In great programs, there is simply no room for any form of selfishness. This goes for both the players on your roster and the coaches on your staff. A few examples of selfishness include players more concerned about their stats or what they’re wearing on game day, and assistant coaches obsessed with what their job title is, walking out to the hash to argue a call instead of letting the head coach handle it, or always looking for the next job opportunity. Those types of selfishness can kill a culture in a hurry, and they’re not always easy to see.

4) Re-occurring discipline issues on and off the field
It’s really hard to build and maintain a culture when you have guys that can’t make simple, disciplined decisions on and off the field. This ranges from before or after-the-snap penalties like unsportsmanlike conducts that cost the team field position and momentum, to making the decision to stay home and rest on a Thursday or Friday night instead of going out with your friends who are known to make knuckle-headed decisions.

5) Energy is low from both players and staff in team meetings and practices
In many cases, a good culture is something you can almost feel. The same can be said for the opposite. Low energy and optimism is a sign that players aren’t fully bought in to the vision that is being sole, or perhaps that they’re not connecting with the vision that is being pitched – both of which are major issues.

6) You have many different sub-groups as opposed to one unified team
Go into any high school lunch room in America, and you’ll see various cliques. While kids always have and always will gravitate to like-minded peers, cohesive cultures find a way to bring everyone into the fold, where the sub-groups are limited. A successfully instilled culture means that everyone is on the same page, pulling in the same direction, with the same goals in mind.

7) Negativity has become contagious among players, staff, and everyone else in the building and program
In my opinion, one of the biggest slayers of culture is negativity because it has a way of festering and then multiplying quickly and it often does so behind closed doors, away from practices, meetings, and team functions. Strong cultures equip kids, leaders, and coaches with ways to combat that negativity and squashing it before it spreads. Like selfishness, negativity isn’t always visible, but always needs to be addressed head on.

Anything else come to mind? Let me know at [email protected] or @CoachSamz.

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Content manager - Doug took the reins in 2011 and the website has been better ever since. A former college player and small college coach, Doug now serves as the head coach at Ravenna HS (MI).