Kristen McDonnell has a very unique perspective. She coached a top-tier program in Braintree on the girls side for many years. This past season, she moved on to coach the boys program in Norwood. Males have been coaching on the female side for a long time, but slowly women are growing into coaching positions for male teams. Coach McDonnell shared with me some perspectives on enhancing team culture that seem to work regardless of gender.
Skits are great regardless
Coach McDonnell always utilized skits to promote values while coaching on the girls’ side. Initially she was skeptical that it would work on the boys side as well, but she said they were very well received.
Find Ways to Combine Freshman, JV, and Varsity Teams
Early in the season this past year all three levels gathered together for a pizza party. They would also incorporate competitive drills in which one player from each of the three teams were on the same team. The players loved it. Each Wednesday and Friday during the season JV and varsity practices were combined. A player on both teams were matched up and self-proclaimed “Thunder Buddies” after the movie Ted. The younger players learn the terminology so much better as a result.
The Burn Board is where players go for tremendous hustle. Coaches might give it strictly to players that dive on the floor or maybe it’s just general hustle plays they want to reward. Coach McDonnell gave a Band-Aid to the player that won the Burn Board when she coached in Braintree. She wrongfully assumed that the boys would reject the idea. Again, the gender did not matter because the players value recognition.
Have Energy Noticed by Others
At the start of games, the team stands and supports their teammates until they are told to sit down by the referee. When the ref comes over they are respectful and honor the ref’s request. That said, it is a matter of pride for the group that their energy was that noticeable. Coach McDonnell touched on energy in how they warm up as well. She gives an energy award at the end of the season to the player who exudes these types of principles the best.
Give Concrete Examples to Illustrate Core Values
When Coach McDonnell went into this season as rookie coach, it was hard for her to pick out core values. She did not know where the strengths and weaknesses of the team culture before she came in. Thus, she waited to find the right ones.
One thing that she said which I agreed with, but never expressed as succinctly as her is that words like “competitiveness” are jargon to the players. They will nod their head if you ask them to be more competitive, but it has no meaning. Players need specific examples. Stories or videos are a way to get a message through. Simply telling them we value accountability means nothing.
Try Not to Let the Moment Go
Too often coaches are faced with a dilemma and pass on taking action. It might be the fourth quarter and a player shows up a referee or after the game they make a scene in the handshake line. A coach knows the player just broke a team rule or standard yet they tell themselves to wait it out or turn a blind eye. Coach McDonnell asked why that is?
There is always a balancing act for players that are especially difficult, but coaches need to remember why they coach. For me, it is to help teach values to young players. Coach McDonnell advocates sitting your best player if they do not conduct themselves according to the team culture you wish to promote. Whether you sit them or not, other players see how they get treated. Likewise, if your players are making good decisions, coaches need to find the time to celebrate their good decisions.