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Team Culture Wins the Locker Room

The first key to any team culture is defining expectations of your players.  First, start with describing the difference between a “Chemistry Creator” and an “Energy Sucker”.   Here is what I’ve used over the years.

A Chemistry Creator:

  • Cares about the team outcome over their personal accolades

  • Is willing to put teammates’ success over their own

  • Willing to hold each other accountable (team rules, use of social media, classroom expectations, practice effort, etc)

  • Each day, find a way to help a teammate

  • Places an emphasis on succeeding in the classroom to the best of their ability

  • Acknowledges unselfish efforts by others

Some of these expectations are on court related, some are not.  All are factors that lead to our team having success in what we are trying to accomplish. 

An “Energy Sucker”

  • Is only satisfied when personal accolades are accomplished, regardless of team outcomes

  • Are negative:  It was someone else’s fault why we didn’t succeed 

  • Complain about shots, playing time, or their “role” on the team

  • Don’t commit to their best effort academically (miss class, late assignments, miss study hall, don’t go for extra study time with tutors, etc)

  • Bad body language when receiving instruction

I’ve found that all of these behaviors can be contagious.  Once it starts, it can snowball.  Define this early and correct these behaviors early, or have discussions on whether or not individuals should still be involved in the program.

Just as you want to correct “Energy Suckers” you also want to promote “Chemistry Creators”. Not spending enough time promoting the attributes we want in “Chemistry Creators” is the most common mistake we make in coaching.  We have to remember that these traits are not always prominent in our players, however, we can teach it and develop them to be these types of teammates.  The following are some suggestions I’ve used over the years that help create that culture of “Chemistry Creators”.

Always teach it, even to its most simple form.  The first one I do is teach “the point”.  When you receive a great pass, the player receiving that pass should give a finger pointed in their direction of the player who passed it to them. Simple, right? Look at your practice and see how many times that happens. You most likely will be amazed at how infrequently it takes place. A lot of players don’t come in with that instinct to recognize an unselfish play.  You have to teach it early and often. This simple gesture is the basic foundation of the “Chemistry Creator”.


Early in your season, start practice by asking your players what they did that day to help a teammate?  Don’t always make it about being on the floor.  Encourage small things like an upperclassman helping a freshman find the new classroom they got assigned or assisted them in signing up for classes in the next term.  Encourage players to be accountable for each other’s success in all phases.


Put a value in some way to “unselfish intangibles”.  A colleague of mine has a “gold” practice shirt that is given out each day to be worn by a player who took the most offensive charges in practice.  You could also do this for such things as the player who was the most encouraging in practice. The sky is the limit on your factors but build a sense of importance to some of these intangibles that you want and recognize it with a reward.


Finally, make sure your captain and team leaders are selling this philosophy every day.  I have my captain meet with me each day even if only for five minutes to have this type of dialogue.  Your captain then must be willing to put these factors into motion by doing them himself. I can’t stress enough how important this factor will be to your team success.  


Winning is always a by-product of so many factors.  By creating a team culture that promotes “Chemistry Creators” then you’ve put yourself in a position to not only enjoy each day but to then strive for success.


About the author:

Matt Richards is the Associate Dean of Students/Director of Athletics and Head Men’s Basketball Coach at Southern Maine Community College.  During the past 14 seasons, his teams have amassed a 266-147 record.  This past 2016-17 season, his team went 23-8 overall winning the Yankee Small College Conference Title and securing its 7th trip to the United State Collegiate Athletic Association National Tournament.

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