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What may not be as obvious or glorious but vitally important is creating a positive culture.

Culture in simple terms is, “the way we do things around here.” Building a culture in itself must be done intentionally and involves every detail of a team’s existence including game and practice routines, meal time, dress, travel protocol, interactions between teammates, and every imaginable aspect of the team’s life. Coaches must not delay in paying close attention to culture building as norms and patterns develop almost instantly. Promoting positive team traditions, facilitating pro-social relationships, enforcing team rules, and ensuring that opportunities exist for all players to feel successful are important.

A culture of leadership can be even more impactful as teams benefit when all players feel equally as confident as the star player or captain and act as leaders on and off the field.  

Below is an action plan to help you begin the process of building a culture of leadership:

STEP 1-Coaching Staff

  • Know Your Vision – Reflect on what leadership means to your program, why it is important, and how it fits your goals for season outcomes. With your coaching staff, write a definition of leadership, behavioral examples you can SEE on and off the field that reflect your definition, and an on and off field code of conduct.
  • Role Model – Be the leader you would like your players to be.  Act on your defined vision with consistency and integrity. For example, if you would like your players to show up early and carry the ball bag do this as well.

STEP 2-Team

  • Write it Down – Share your leadership vision with your players and ask for feedback.
  • Involve Everyone – Ask each player to write down an area where they believe they can be a contributing leader. Areas of leadership may be large or small and be traditional (captainship) or untraditional (bench leader, off field leader, teambuilding leader, etc.).  
  • Open Forum – Ask players to share these identified leadership roles and use this to facilitate a discussion around your individual and team goal setting for the season.
  • Outside the Locker Room – Discuss the significance of representing the team as a person and leader in the community and provide clear expectations.
  • Accountability – Define what the team values, what they may have to give up to achieve their common goals, and the expectations they have for each other on and off the field.
  • Team Mantra – Create a team slogan or mantra together as a group. The mantra may illustrate your team’s desire to respect and celebrate various leaders within the group. Slogans and phrases can be powerful ways to unite people.

EXAMPLE:  Doc Rivers, while coaching the Boston Celtics, united his team around the mantra “ubuntu.” To reinforce the chosen mantra, it can be used on team gear. (Read more about Ubuntu here)

STEP 3- Captains

  • Take Time to Lead – Meet with your captains to further discuss the leadership vision, team mantra, and how their higher level leadership skills can be utilized to support their teammates’ identified leadership roles.
  • Clear Communication – Explain to your captains that a culture of leadership helps strengthen a team by assisting all players in feeling confident and acting like leaders on and off the field.

Working with Players:  Helpful Hints

For those players who struggle with seeing themselves as a leader, are currently underperforming, or experiencing behavioral struggles as a youth athlete: 

  • Point out their success whenever possible.
  • Ask a peer to praise them after a practice or game
  • Help them develop a list of strengths and ways to utilize these strengths (on and off the field)

Your captains are vital to the process. It is important that although all players are being given a leadership role, their position is honored by:

  • Allowing them to have input on decisions affecting the team.
  • Providing leadership and learning opportunities such as running portions of practices or team meetings when possible.
  • Being open to answering their questions about leadership in difficult situations.
  • Mentoring and supervising them as captains.                 


Rebekah Conway Roulier, Ed.M. is the General Manager of the Doc Wayne Athletic League, Inc. a 501 (c)(3) and is responsible for sports programs and training of coaches in current and future markets, the enhancement of the organization’s “do the good” (DtG) therapeutic curriculum and management of the monitoring and evaluation systems. She comes to Doc Wayne with an Ed.M. in Counseling with a Specialization in Sport Psychology and with extensive experience in coaching and work in youth services. Rebekah has a B.A. and Ed.M. from Boston University. In addition to her work at Doc Wayne, she has provided performance enhancement consultation to athletes, coaches and referees seeking “success” at a variety of levels.