Assistants Anonymous: Championship Culture


In our latest edition of Assistants Anonymous, a Big Ten championship winning assistant coach speaks on program culture. What exactly is a program’s culture? How does a program create a championship culture? He breaks it down.


There’s a lot of talk these days about culture. Before we dig in, how do you define a program’s culture?

A program’s culture is all about the values set forth and the accountability that takes place throughout the entirety of a team’s system. In order for the right culture to flourish everyone needs to be on the same page and working towards the same goals. You’ll run into a bad culture when you have groups of individuals who want to do their own thing and the coaches want something else — culture has to be about cooperation, unity and understanding between all members.

A small piece of building a winning culture is all about getting the players, and staff, to understand the process and what goes into success. No program in the country can control wins and losses, as much as anyone would like to say otherwise, it’s just simply not possible. Baseball is the ultimate game of failure and more often times than not we are all going to fail our fair share and the players need to understand that.

So it becomes more about the process then the results, you break it down by it’s smallest parts and it starts at the very beginning; going to class, getting into the weight room, being on-time, respecting each other and the people you come into contact with, showing up to practice every single day with energy, having a positive and open attitude and having an attitude of gratitude.

Then you break it down each game by your approach to each inning and each at-bat — did we achieve our goals in throwing strikes, having a quality at-bat, having a solid approach —- If we do that, and break everything down to it’s core and focus on doing everything right, then we can look back on our process (and our culture) and realistically be in a no lose environment and that’s what you want the kids to understand.

Eliminate the rewards, forget about the score, focus on the process and your growth and the game is fun. 


If everyone would create a championship-winning culture, they could do it. In your opinion, what part of a culture where championships prosper is controllable?

It sounds easy on paper but it’s one of the most difficult aspects to achieve inside a locker room, if it was easy everyone would do it but when you have 35 players and 4 coaches not everyone is going to agree on absolutely everything.

Not everyone buys into a certain philosophy and some simply cannot hold up to their end of the accountability factor. Controlling that is hard because you don’t know what’s going on inside of everyone’s head — but you can try and detect patterns of body language, mood changes, attitude, adversity to failure, etc. Noticing and being aware of those signals allows you to see what’s really going on inside people’s heads and thus you can attempt to make adjustments through mental and emotional training and try to solve some issues before they become problems.

Conclusively, you cannot control results or players but you can help get them away from focusing on the external aspects and get them focusing more on helping the people around them be successful, that’s where the accountability factor comes into play. Preach the right values, have a strong systematic approach to focusing on the process and continue to teach and educate these young kids as much as possible.  

When there is a roster of 35 players, a coaching staff of four, not everyone will see eye-to-eye. When there is an a player whose behavior doesn’t reflect what’s best for the culture, is it a one-on-one matter to handle between coach and player, is it something where the other teammates are to step in? What’s the best way to proceed?

In this type of a matter it’s best to be handled in stages.

First, you as the assistant might try to step in and give your insight into the matter and/or problem and see if the player responds — if that’s unsuccessful perhaps the team (as a group) takes it upon themselves to sit the player down, in a players only meeting, and give their thoughts and/or expectations of what they perceive is the issue.

Finally, the head coach steps in and has a closed door meeting with the player and lays out the ultimatum. At the end of the day you cannot have players that are cancers or behavior problems on your team, that’s just simply unacceptable. Getting players to buy into a philosophy and getting them all on the same page (mindset-wise) is one thing but having guys acting out and becoming problems is something that’s inexcusable and will not be tolerated. 

In today’s world, coaches are forced to recruit future student-athletes who may be upwards of four years away from stepping foot on campus. When you strive to have a certain culture, is there concern that the recruiting cycle has accelerated to the point it’s hard to maintain consistency in the type of player a program brings in, having the right fit?

The ultimate question facing our game today and there’s no good answer for you.

Early recruiting is absolutely out of control in college athletics and there’s no solution on the horizon. So, ultimately, the question your left with is how much are you willing to swallow ethically? There’s no way of knowing for sure if a high school freshman, four years away from graduation, is going to continue to develop physically and/or academically. There’s no way of knowing what type of a kid he’s going to be by his senior year, what type of interests, personality, attitude, ethics or even sports he likes by the time he’s 17 or 18 years old —- everyone who makes theses commitments to these kids are guessing.

You see the talent, you see the potential, you risk losing them if you don’t offer within a certain time frame and you find yourself right in the middle of the early recruiting game. So what happens if it doesn’t work out, the kid doesn’t develop and his grades don’t pan out, then what? Do you take away the scholarship offer, do you stay committed to the kid, what if someone you planned on getting drafted doesn’t get drafted and you have no roster room available?

These are all tough questions that you’ve got to face when going into the early recruiting cycle. Like most of us, we want to try and keep the best players in the state, and when southern schools (or other Power 5 schools) come calling your forced with the dilemma of losing potentially high valued talent by not offering or you put your morals and ethics aside and jump into the mix. There’s no easy answer, for anyone. Coaches and prospective student athletes are both in a bad situation until the NCAA decides to step in and change something. 

At the end of the day, can championships and games be won with players just showing up? Is a team culture instrumental to success?

For most of us in the Big Ten — there’s no way we can just show up and play and expect to win, I don’t believe you can do that in any facet in competitive athletics regardless of how talented you are. You can have 35 of the best players on the planet and if they don’t play together, have no roles and have no feel for each other it’s 35 individual players all doing their own thing, all trying to accomplish their own personal goals instead of one unified team goal.

Maybe this is why a lot of all-star teams repeatedly fail, they rely solely on the talent of the individual versus the collective efforts from the group. Baseball is the ultimate team game, for as individually complex as it can get at times, you simply cannot beat the game all by yourself. You need to sacrifice, play defense, move runners, hit with two strikes, have different guys out of the bullpen who offer a variety of ways to execute.

For a perfect example of this all you need to do is look at Coastal Carolina last year, by far and away the most unified team in Omaha — they all had roles, all bought into a philosophy and all played for each other….the ultimate team won the ultimate team game.  

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