By Cam Schuknecht
There are two important challenges for coaches when developing teams: 1) managing attitudes and 2) getting players to think the same way – both of which are powerful forces that shape team chemistry and ultimately determine a team’s potential. To approach these challenges, a system of ethics and leadership guidelines can be incorporated within the program. More specifically, core values and a leadership council can be integrated.
Neither of these concepts is necessarily new in society or athletics. The process is based on the structure that many teams or organizations are successful (or not successful) because of their character and leadership.
There have been recent examples in college athletics that demonstrate the use of values and leadership. Butler basketball has been very successful throughout the years and had a great run through the NCAA tournament the past two years. Quite often throughout the NCAA tournament, the phrase “The Butler Way” was referenced in terms of its values. Tom Osborne, the former head football coach at the University of Nebraska, instilled a unity council that proved to be a productive tool in one of the most successful runs in college football history. The structure provided in both of these examples produces an unselfish thought process, while instilling a sense of ownership and responsibility in the program.
A person’s attitude and thoughts are going to show in his or her actions and words. The goal is to guide that thought process and to recruit people who have a positive character and demeanor. At the same time, coaches should continually educate their players on how attitude affects the team. The goal is to create a team mindset that corresponds with its values.
Different programs have incorporated values into the team setting. Following are some examples
- U.S. Army
- Loyalty, Duty, Respect, Selfless Service, Honor, Integrity and Personal Courage
- These values apply to every soldier in every situation
- Duke Men’s Basketball
- Trust, Collective Responsibility, Caring, Communication and Pride
- The Butler Way – Butler Men’s Basketball
- Humility, Passion, Unity, Servant-hood and Thankfulness
- Demands commitment, denies selfishness, accepts reality yet seeks improvement every day while putting the team above self.
- Nebraska Wesleyan Men’s Basketball
- Duty, Enthusiasm, Humility, Integrity, Loyalty
As the values of different programs are considered, following are definitions and expectations that accompany each core value, beginning with enthusiasm and integrity.
Enthusiasm – Players and coaches have a passionate devotion to the team and to the sport. They have a whole-hearted belief to a single mission or pursuit. They see the opportunity in every difficulty and are able to overcome obstacles. Enthusiastic team members come to practices and games mentally and physically ready to compete. They come with a high amount of energy and are excited about what they do.
A team member with enthusiasm:
- Brings passion, energy and excitement to the team every day.
- Loves and enjoys being part of a team, practices and games.
- Creates an environment that is conducive to overcoming all challenges.
- Corrects and assists teammates in a respectful manner.
Integrity – Integrity is the cornerstone of good character and encompasses every aspect of life. Team members with integrity have words and actions that are free from deceit. Team members know what they stand for and live by the standards of the core values. Integrity demands that individuals are truthful and respectful toward others, and follow rules and regulations.
A team member with integrity:
- Acts honestly and respectfully toward himself/herself and teammates.
- Is upfront and truthful towards others.
- Is a person of his or her word.
- Is a positive role model on campus and in the community.
Each core value is clearly defined and each value includes expectations for team behavior. The expectations determine what is acceptable on the team and allows the team to live by these guidelines. Core values provide:
- A code of ethics and behavior.
- Shared expectations for all team members.
- A sense of direction for the team.
- A foundation or backbone for the team.
- A sense of cohesiveness on the team.
- An attraction for good people/recruits - “Birds of a feather flock together.”
- A character reference that allows solid leadership to be built within the program.
At Nebraska Wesleyan, the values were voted on by the team, not just the coaches. This has provided a sense of responsibility and ownership within the program. The players had a say in what was chosen. The team was able to choose five core values that were most pertinent to the team’s success. Once the value system was established, the leadership program was put in place.
Examples of Unity/Leadership Councils in successful college football programs:
Tom Osborne – Nebraska Football
- Team’s phenomenally successful Unity Council approach
- Representatives from each part of the team formed problem-solving units
Kirk Ferentz – Iowa Football
- Leadership Group
- Purpose is to help formulate policies and enter into team decision-making matters regarding the upcoming season
Mark Dantonio – Michigan State Football
- Unity Council, 12 players in terms of leadership, like a Senate
- Maintain leadership role or voted out, young players, sit where decisions are being made, personnel, disciplining, tough decisions
Benefits of Leadership Council:
- First and foremost, coaches know what is going on with the team. It is not a guessing game.
- Continually building leadership, relationships, communication, ownership and accountability in all levels of the program. This creates a higher level of unity on the team.
- Positive peer pressure. Blaming and finger-pointing are replaced with mutual monitoring and mutual reinforcement. Positive peer pressure intensifies the team’s performance.
- Things do not linger in the program. This prevents an atmosphere of a “Soap Opera,” “Drama” or ‘Talk Radio Show.”
- Players are brought in on the ground floor. They are able to sit where decisions are being made. Coaches are also able to get their leaders on board with tough decisions.
- Players also have an opportunity to provide input with different team situations in council meetings, thus creating a greater sense of involvement among players.
- Players listen to the concern of coaches and coaches listen to the players. This creates a greater sense of trust and “buy in.”
Tom Osborne mentioned four major (positive) consequences that the council had on team unity. These were mentioned in his book, Faith in the Game.
- The Unity Council empowered the players. They began to see that their concerns were heard and addressed.
- The players developed a better understanding of what was considered acceptable and unacceptable behavior, as well as what the consequences of inappropriate behavior would be.
- Players began to accept responsibility for team standards. Rules were not imposed from the top down so much as they were enforced from the bottom up. Players were able to address damaging behavior before it escalated into a major news event. Players began to take ownership of team standards.
- Unity among players, coaches and support staff became more prevalent. Complaints in the locker room decreased. Dissension was rare. Everyone was committed to a common mission.
Who is on the Leadership Council?
- The council is represented by five members of the team.
- The leadership council is composed of at least one player from each class. (sophomore through senior). Again, leadership on all levels of the program should be developed, not just with the seniors.
- Freshmen are eligible to be part of the Leadership Council in the spring of their freshmen year.
The selection criteria for the Leadership Council:
- The council is selected by a vote of team members/coaching staff in the spring of each year, following the season. Elected members serve on the council for one year. Following are criteria used to select the leadership council. The core values are blended very closely.
- A person on the Leadership Council must possess the following:
- Fully supports and upholds the core values. This person is a positive influence within the essence of the core values.
- Sets a positive example for the team. Gives a consistent effort and displays a positive attitude every day in practice. This person is about continuous improvement.
- Never sets himself/herself above others except in carrying responsibility
- First one in the gym/last one out
- Communicates effectively with players and coaches.
- Brings everyone together. Has the ability to reach out to different personnel.
- Is able to hold other players accountable. Has the ability to confront problems with anyone on the team. Problem-solver.
- Steers team chemistry in a positive direction. Knows what is going on with the team.
- Communicates with recruits and makes a difference in attracting new players to the program. The goal is high-quality players with high character.
Now in the third year with our core values and leadership council at Nebraska Wesleyan, there has been a great deal of growth in the program. It resembles a culture of work ethic, unselfishness, team accountability, leadership, unity and pride. All of these characteristics are potential reaching. Managing attitudes and creating a like-mindedness are continually part of the team process. Our values and leadership development will play an important role in our team’s success. More importantly, we are providing tools for our players to be successful in life after graduation.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Cam Schuknecht is the head men’s basketball coach at Nebraska Wesleyan University