Every youth hockey team has a “team culture,” which is basically just a way of defining how a particular team and its members interact with one another. Good team culture is defined as a team that gets along and that is focused on the well-being and improvement of each individual player and a team where the coaches are supportive and encouraging of each player and where he or she currently is on the journey. A bad team culture is one where the players are selfish and overly competitive toward one another and where a coach has favorite players or objectives beyond just helping each player to be the best that he or she can be.
Coaches are the ones who are ultimately responsible for the team culture. While there will always be one or two players who don’t fall in line with the culture of the team and who are only out for themselves, the coach still has a big role in how the majority of the team acts. Coaches set the standard for what types of behaviors and attitudes are acceptable and unacceptable, and they are ultimately in control of how the team acts and functions.
As such, one of the most important things a coach can do is to carefully balance the “want to win” with the true goal of youth sports: building confidence and skills in young players. Everyone wants to win, and there’s nothing wrong with that want, but when you make it your main focus and neglect the other objectives of youth sports, you’re making a huge mistake- one that can ultimately be harmful to your players.
The parents of youth players also play a role in building team culture. You can preach your beliefs and values to your players all you want, but if they aren’t being reinforced at home, they’re not going to be realized. That’s why it’s so important to make your values known to parents and players and to encourage everyone to work together to achieve the same goals. The key to getting everyone on the same page is having values that are realistic and that everyone can get behind. It’s important to plan these values ahead of time and to provide them to players and their parents formally. Some good values to strive for include:
l Giving all players, regardless of current skill level, the chance to play and improve
l Teaching life lessons through sports
l Practicing skills before performing them in a game setting
l Encouraging fun, not just competitiveness
l Demanding maximum effort from players while realizing that effort and skill are not always equal
l Requiring good sportsmanship at all times and to all players
l Creating team rituals that will serve as positive bonding experiences for team members
l Communicating regularly with parents
l Discussing problems and concerns openly and honestly
l Providing constructive criticism to players with the goal of helping them to improve
When you voice such positive goals as these and consistently reinforce them with the team and parents, you can build and maintain a strong, positive team culture that will carry your team farther than any amount of practicing.