Cultivating a Positive Program Culture: Eliminate Unwanted Behavior & Achieve Lasting Success

by SwimSwam Partner Content 0

November 21st, 2023 Club, Industry

Courtesy of Matt Bos from Your Sports Resource, a SwimSwam partner.

This fall swim season started with a string of university programs running into hazing issues, some of which were severe and had massive consequences. As these types of issues are becoming more common in the news cycle, it got me thinking about what university and club programs can do to help decrease unacceptable behaviors, such as hazing. What I have witnessed from programs that are high achieving and have sustained success is that they have a clear vision for their program and instill values that resonate through their coaches, staff, athletes and parents.

Vision, values and behaviors are some of the staple strategies that we work to implement with the programs we work with at Your Sports Resource and we see clubs thrive after completing this work and integrating it into their program. I also believe it could be an actionable step to lessen negative behaviors from athletes.

Whether at the club or collegiate level, most of the top programs in the country build a culture of excellence around their whole program that more time than not leads to fast swimming.

Bill Dorenkott, Head Coach at Ohio State,a perennial top ten collegiate program, has built a winning culture at OSU by actively educating their athletes that top performance is not just about physical performance; rather it is a combination that requires athletes to focus on academics, athletics, personal and social skills. At Ohio State they use swimming as a way to build transferable skills outside the pool.

Coach Dorenkott told me the following regarding building the appropriate culture at OSU;

“We believe that culture is a belief on the heart. When a team shares a common belief it leads to aligned behaviors resulting in a world class experience. The challenge is the continuous communication of the values and commitment to the behaviors that lead to our desired outcomes.”

These desired outcomes don’t necessarily come naturally to individuals nor teams. In order for the athletes to act on the values of a team they need to be taught, discussed, and reinforced to have the lasting impact most desire.

For example, stopping behaviors such as hazing will not be accomplished by simply telling athletes not to do it. It requires a comprehensive approach that starts with program leaders which typically means the head coach. We all know by now that hazing is a harmful practice that can have serious physical and psychological consequences, and it is essential to create a culture that prioritizes safety, respect, and inclusivity.

Some of the biggest factors that contribute to why things like hazing happen are traditions, peer pressure, power dynamics, misguided team bonding, lack of education, fear of retaliation, normalization, and desire for inclusion. The same can be said for most negative actions either taken by teams or team members.

Program Vision Statement

Whether you’re a college, high school, or club team it is important that your program has a vision statement that describes where you want to go and what you want to accomplish. Your vision will help to influence your day-to-day decisions and as well as help you set the tone you want for your team. Your vision statement is something that clearly defines the dreams of your program and is simply 1-2 sentences, but it must be concise and aspirational. Having a vision for your program will help guide the decisions you make. If something does not line up with your vision then, you know it is not the right decision for your program.

Program Values

Now as important as it is to have a clearly stated vision for your program it may be even more important to develop program values that give meaning to the way you act as a program. This is for everyone involved with your program from coaches to athletes and parents to volunteers.  Your program’s conduct, ethics and priorities are all guided by your values.

Here at Your Sports Resource we recommend that organizations have 5-6 values that if you are living on a regular basis will help you reach your vision. Our values at Your Sports Resource are; Empathy, Service, Integrity, Authenticity, and Empowerment.

In short, living your values is how you are going to reach your vision.

Program Behaviors

A key factor in demonstrating values so they are real for everyone involved is to attach specific behaviors to each value that you feel embody what you want to see on and off the pool deck. These behaviors take your values from just being words and turn them into actions. Behaviors are the ways those within your program can model your values.

Behaviors are extremely important and should not be overlooked. These are the actionable things you will see every day in your coaches, staff, and athletes who model the values you want your team to hold. It is the walking the walk.

Ideally, you want to attach two to three behaviors to each value. These are things you can see and that can be reinforced with your people.

Here is an example of what a value and behavior may look like.

Value → Integrity

Behaviors → 1. Be respectful, responsible, and ready 2. Own your actions 3. Do the right thing when nobody’s watching.

The key to bringing all this work to life is finding ways to integrate your vision, values, and behaviors (VVB) into your program. Taking your VVB from words on paper into everyday actions that incorporate the key behaviors you would like to see will lay the foundation for building the culture you want for long-term success.

This means coaches, staff, and board members, anyone involved with your program, should all learn and discuss your values and behaviors to ensure all are on the same page as far as modeling them. Then you need to work on how you can incorporate these into different aspects of your program so they become part of your culture.

Morgan Cordle, Head Coach and CEO at 757swim in Williamsburg, Virginia takes an active role in educating her coaches, staff and athletes on how to put their organizational vision and values into action on a daily basis. Morgan shared this regarding team culture;

“Creating a safe and inclusive environment in any organization or community is a complex endeavor that involves a combination of values, behaviors, and communication. Vision, values, and behaviors play critical roles in shaping and maintaining the culture necessary to foster safe environments.”

There are some real actionable steps that can be taken to not only help eliminate unwanted behaviors from programs, but that can also help elevate your team in the process. It is important to keep in mind that this does not happen overnight. Shifting to positive behaviors takes time and holding people accountable is the key. Your team needs to see the accolades of doing the right things and receiving corrective action when doing the wrong things. If you want changes, you have to be consistent and stay the course.

Talking to your athletes about your values and behaviors is essential as is reinforcing the right behaviors. You can also get creative in finding other ways to integrate these items into your program. We work with teams that put their values on banners at the pool, or put them on t-shirts or the back of clipboards.

Remember words are just words until you put them into action. Using tools that can actively help build the desired culture of your program will help your athletes in the pool as well as in many other aspects of life. With the right vision for your program you can have lasting success that will positively impact many generations to come. Teaching your athlete the values and behaviors you deem important to being successful in and out of the pool will not only boost your morale and athletic performance it may just keep the negative action, like hazing, out of your program and out of the news.

Your Sports Resource serves USA Swimming clubs and university swim programs to maximize their operations. Our range of services include strategic planning, shifting old mindsets, creating effective structures, and working with both coaches and key stakeholders to ensure collaboration and beneficial relationships are established.

About Matt Bos

Matt Bos, a seasoned swimming coach with experience at both the club and collegiate level, is a valued consultant at Your Sports Resource (YSR). As an end-to-end partner, YSR is dedicated to supporting clubs and ensuring positive operational outcomes. With a shared passion for the success of clubs, YSR collaborates closely with their clients to provide comprehensive assistance and guidance.

You can find more information at Your Sports Resource.

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