When coaches talk about the culture within their program, it usually draws the agreeing head nod, the harrumph and followers repeating the same talking points.
But give this some thought: culture is a mystery. It’s a signature platform and yet not many know exactly what it is. It is at the heart of what makes a successful program.
If it’s been around for years, it expresses a coach’s philosophy without the coach really having to say it. If it’s just beginning, then a coach is repeating the lines endlessly until players recite those without having to think twice.
It can be solvent. It can be fleeting. Culture is something that coaches strive to build or maintain. It’s not something that occurs overnight. It takes time.
“It’s an art not a science,” said Keller baseball coach Rob Stramp who is about to begin his 20th season coaching the Indians. “When I first got into coaching, I thought my job was to teach about fielding, pitching and hitting. The X’s and O’s.
“But I realized that it was about building a team and relationships. These are things that don’t show up in the box score. But they’re real.”
Of course, let’s understand that winning teams really begin with really good players. That’s not everything.
The popular phrase you’re hearing from coaches nowadays is three words: “Trust the process.”
That’s asking every person from the coaches to the team manager to understand that if A-Z are followed, the chances of becoming successful increase. It is about what will and will not be accepted.
However, every coach’s version of culture is different.
Colleyville Heritage girls basketball head coach Dianna Sager in finishing her 16th season. This was a season that the Lady Panthers were expected to make the playoffs but not win the District 8-5A championship. Well, they did. They won at Grapevine, 45-35, on Feb. 6 to claim it outright.
Sager begins every season by putting together a lot of team-building exercises and events. Then there are rules that are different for players than they are for students. Players will be on time to class. Shirts are tucked in. Solid work in the classroom is expected. Sager starts this with her freshmen. Once those beliefs are established, it runs itself. Success breeds success. Players change. Results typically won’t.
“It’s really about the younger players watching the older players and how they do things,” Sager said it. “For us, it’s reached a point where everybody knows and values what’s important. I don’t have near the grade-patrolling like I used to or the discipline issues. I don’t think I’ve seen a parent meeting about a player in 5-6 years.”
Stramp said his strength and conditioning program are at the core. His players arrive early in the morning and lift. It’s a sacrifice.
Winning state championships are a rare thing. If programs were solely judged by those, then coaching turnover would be ever year.
Competing for district championships and advancing to the postseason are reasonable. Then if a team catches a few breaks and makes a deep run, it’s because the culture put it in position. But when a season endures struggles, that’s when the culture is needed more than ever. Sager has taken her program to the playoffs in 14 seasons. Stramp has guided Keller to the playoffs 18 times.
“How we play makes the difference,” Stramp said. “It’s about our commitment to each other.”
Think about it about another way. If what you’re watching on the outside looks good, there’s a pretty good chance that it had to start looking good on the inside to make this possible.