Building your team culture

How to develop a successful team culture within your grassroots team.

By Roger Wilkinson

Often when working with volunteer coaches you hear of the problems and frustrations they encounter when running junior teams, especially in relation to parents and players. Many coaches have experienced situations such as parents questioning selection, judging everything on winning and losing rather than development and shouting negative instructions from the sideline, which undermines the coaches’ work. As well as players not being punctual and positive with other team members and of course not paying proper attention during practice sessions. (I must stress here I am only concentrating on the negatives I’ve heard – there are also loads of positives that coaches give out as well!)

The solution to these problems and frustrations can begin before any coaching takes place – at the beginning of the season. It is vital for every grass roots coach (or professional for that matter) to set a team culture.

Especially at grass roots level, its important that every player AND every parent knows the way the squad will operate and what is expected of everybody involved. Coaching and playing is obviously the top priority but setting the right standards from the first day of the season enables maximum effectiveness and support to the coaching process.

Before any training takes place call a meeting with parents, players and fellow team coaches to discuss the details of the culture you wish to develop. This includes everything from punctuality, dress code for training, communication expectancy with players etc

Here are some of the key elements I believe are crucial to building a team culture:

1. Team attitude
“In this team we do things differently and well”
The player’s attitude to training and playing needs to be outlined and clear rules established. Support and respect for each other as players, for the coaches, opponents, volunteer referees and club organisers is vital.

2. Parents as part of the team
”In this team the parents are part of coaching the set up”
It is important for parents to understand the selection process, training and playing policy. ‘Buy in’ of that policy will make them ‘allies instead of enemies’. Outline how they can help and work with their kids to enhance the work done by the coach. Prioritise how to coach their kids using one to one coaching methods, educate them on what are the qualities great players and great teams. Illustrates how to watch the game positively, how to talk about performance to your child, and finally diet, nutrition and lifestyle.

(At PREMIER SKILLS we have designed a course ‘Parent as First Coach’ course for this exact purpose.)

3. Playing style
“In this team we don’t settle for ordinary”
Before any coaching takes place introduce and clarify with the parents and players the proposed playing style.

“Before going in to battle all soldiers (players) should know how the battle (game) is to be fought as a group (team) and the individual’s responsibilities to the group (team).”
Field Marshall Montgomery

Explain the game style to parents and players and bring them on board in understanding how the team will play, answer questions, refer to the game style at all times ‘drip in’ real understanding and belief from everyone attached to the team, parents as much as players.

A clever coaching tool is to use a mini-handball session as a ‘moving blackboard’ where in the warm up the players play with their hands, not their feet, on a mini pitch so the coach can outline the playing philosophy and the players can see and understand the foundation of team shape and basic tactical awareness required.

It is important that both players and parents know and understand what the team is working towards.

4. Preparation
“In this team we play in a different way and every player understands their role”
Prepare every session and make sure everything – balls, bibs and cones etc – are set up before the players arrive. Make sure the players are catered for within the theme of the session from the moment they arrive for training with no players aimlessly kicking the balls around. Don’t waste time in practice with meaningless drills and warm ups that just take up time.

Programme your work, only moving on when you have assessed the players are successful and competent at the level you have been coaching to. Push the players to talk and communicate as part of their understanding. This is the hidden skill that supports every other skill they have.

5. Communication
”We develop intelligent players with a playing personality”
When delivering team talks be organised and motivated. Aim to talk impressively, use words and phrases that deliver positive images (this is very important when coaching as well – “keep the ball” is a better than shouting “don’t lose the ball”.

Take time to prepare for team talks develop a beginning, middle and end using easily recognisable images and pictures that re enforce the understanding of the game style and standards you require in practising and playing.

At the end of session after the team de-brief try to have a 20 second conversation with every player to give ’sandwich’ feedback ie “Well done today you showed good vision when checking your shoulder. For your football homework I want you to practice receiving and opening out with both feet it will really add to your game. However, you practised really well this evening well done.”

Giving homework targets is very important in helping the player and parent develop the players game.

6. Reinforce the culture
“In this team winning isn’t everything – winning with style is everything – that’s our culture”
Make players proud of being part of the set up. Emphasise morale, spirit, persistence and character to train and play competitively but with style. Develop team slogans that reinforce the belief and pride in the culture you’ve set up.

As thinking coaches you will probably add to these key elements I’ve discussed. I’m interested to learn the new aspects you can offer – would love to hear your thoughts in the comments box below.

_ _ _ _

Roger Wilkinson
Co-founder of PREMIER SKILLS, Roger has over 35 years football coaching experience. Roger has worked at Crystal Palace and West Bromwich Albion, coached internationally with the New Zealand under 17 and 20 teams and is a former director of coaching for the New Zealand Football Association. He is also the author of a series of best selling youth coaching DVDs. Roger is a former player with Luton Town and Stevenage Town.

17 thoughts on “Building your team culture

  1. When you go to coach a team you should draw up a ‘vision’ of the playing style that you will work on with that team. You have a meeting with the players, parents, volunteer assistants, anyone with anything to do with the team. The playing style is discussed and agreed upon. You then put this down in writing and everybody: players, parents and assistants, receive a copy and sign it. They return the signed copy to you, the coach, and they retain their own copy for their own records. Anyone who does not agree with the playing style, or does not like it, would not sign the ‘vision’, and so it would be explained from the outset that it would be better if that person, if it is a parent, takes his/her son/daughter to a different team. If the objector is a player or team assistant then again it would be explained that in such circumtances the project cannot work and so it would be best if they joined a different team.
    By doing this, from the start everyone knows where they stand and what the objectives are.
    I find that in many grass roots junior teams mixed messages come floating over from the touchline. Often the coaches have aquired substantial knowledge from their dedicated attendance on coaching courses, seminars, coaching demonstrations etc and good information is going out to the players from their direction. But from other directions you often get different messages, usually demanding a non-stop physical approach with no relation to the playing style that the coach is trying to develop. This is not just conflicting advice coming from parents either. I have known situations where assistant coaches are not in tune with the Head Coach’s philosophy and so there is great confusion for the players with the instructions and advice which are being shouted.

    • Great article Roger, and like the previous post this is the sort of thing they should be teaching on the fa courses so more and more coaches intstall a certain ethos into thier clubs. However I doubt this will be happening in the near distance future with their current coaching courses not practicing what their preaching.
      I recently did an fa level 2 course a few months ago where the tutor was stating the importants of using practices that were ‘ real ‘ to the game. Yet when it actually came to showing us the practices most of them in my eyes were far from realistic. Most either involved servers, waiting for your turn and standing still while others boot the ball over your head. My point being the fa do alot of talking but when it comes to actually putting it into practice they always seem to fall short.

  2. Hi Roger I am a novice coach with a hunger to learn . I have just started coaching and managing my own u12 team for the first time .. what comes to mind is the phrase I have often heard you say on courses I have attended you have taught on “coaching ain’t easy” but I’m.loving the experience and find these articles invaluable .
    What a great check list for us in the grassroots game .. I am learning to implement the ideas and philosophy that I believe but need all sides on board
    Thanks for words of wisdom and a reminder of how to apply best practice

  3. Thanks for feedback Steve I think you make a great point that part of the culture must be that others coached involved must be working towards the same vision.So obvious yet often neglected.
    On the parent theme -John Cartwright recently ran a workshop for Birmingham City Academy coaches using one of their academy teams.Before starting John addressed the coaches and just as importantly the parents of the players,their response was amazing very positive and enlightening.
    Funny enough John has always worked this way and when I worked with him in 2000 at the Crystal Palace Academy John made sure the parents fully understood the gamestyle and the coaching methodology.The parents really felt part of something special.

  4. Hi All. I am truly amazed that this ‘blog’ has not been inundated by readers’. Roger, has produced a clear ‘formula’ for clubs’ to address the problem of working with young players. He has set out several highly important ideas and has asked readers’ to reply with ideas of their own and in so doing create a sound foundation for work at the junior end of the game. ……HAVE WE BECOME SO FED UP WITH OUR FOOTBALL’S LACK OF DIRECTION THAT WE CAN’T SUMMON UP MORE INTEREST IN PUTTING THINGS RIGHT?

    • Hi all. Something that I tried with the school football team I work with was at the start of year I wrote ‘contract’ which each player in the school team had to read and sign. On this contract were some of things you mentioned like showing respect to each other and the coaches, Also to show a willingnes to learn and follow the school teams philosophy.
      Ocacasionally 1 or 2 would brake the rlues and I would remind them of the contract they signed and the importance of sticking to it to stay part of the team and improve. so far I feel this has helped remind the kids of their responsibilities and also make them feel apart of something important. I
      am also thinking of giving one to the parents that watch the games to remind them of their roles. It will also give them somthing to refer to, insuring that they know what’s expected of them when supporting their child. Do you think this is a good way to go about it? would like to know your thoughts.

  5. Great Article.

    Not easy to put into practice as would first appear. But 100% agree with the article.
    I will certainly at the beginning of next season do what the article says.
    We have an added problem in NZ of only a handful of pro coaches , who can act as
    mentors. So thanks for the blogs

    Great stuff

    • Don’t you make a hell of an assumption that they know what they are doing; bearing in mind the the failing English FA has been run by professionals – paid employees for jonks!!! So why should NZ be an improvement on that!!

  6. Cracking article Roger and You’ve hit on something that is so important. Lets face it, we only have the kids for a minimal amount of time so what is said to them and understood away from us has to be an extension of us for it to work.
    Over the years I have always involved parents in their childs progress, both in my private Centre’s of Excellence and in the teams that I have run. Even now with my sons u9 team, the parents know what the philosophy is and what we are trying to achieve. I believe that what is said is THE most important aspect when coaching and dealing with players.
    How can we expect the parents to promote what we want if we don’t appreciate their worth.
    On Monday evening I will hand out 10 DVD’s to the parents of the u9 team that I coach. This DVD from premier skills is perfect even for a ‘non football person’ because at the end of each section it has a re-cap with the most important coaching points and also a section on football homework which is easy to understand. Parents can continue our work with their own child making them feel really useful and valued. This level 1 DVD will help cement the philosophy of out team.
    It is also very interesting that we have had no problems with any single 1 parent since these boys were 5 years of age.
    Well done Roger for highlighting probably the most important component associated with the development of kids at grass roots level.

    Mark Fogarty

  7. Hi Kurtisp. i definately think that you are on the right lines with your ‘contract’ and it’s a good idea to extend this to parents. Roger Wilkinson and Mark Fogarty have also underlined the value of this with their subsequent comments.
    I attended the coaching demonstration given by John Cartwright at Birmingham City FC Academy earlier this season and it was a really key point what he did at the beginning of the session, when he called the boys’ parents over from their standing area in one corner of the training pitch, so that they could hear clearly what was being said and communicate with the coach at appropriate moments. In fact, i have known clubs where parents do not even have a vantage point to watch training and they seem to be treated by some clubs purely as convenient ‘taxi drivers’.
    Even in the slightly higher levels of grass roots youth football there is now a move to segregate parents from the coaches and managers. In the Kent Youth League, the coaches and managers must stand on one side of the pitch and parents and other spectatlors must stay away from that side of the pitch and watch exclusively from the opposite touchline. Cut off from this vital communication link between coach and their child, then is it surprising that misunderstandings and confusion between parent and coach often arise? The parent/guardian/elder brother-sister, (or whoever it is who regularly accompanies the child to football), must be regarded as the ‘extended coach’ for all those hours when the player is away from you, and the coaching which they themselves can then provide is all the better for the knowledge which they are thereby able to acquire.

  8. Hi All. Thanks to those who have contributed to this important ‘blog’. This is where so much of the problems concerning development begin. Field Marshal Montgomery, our greatest General, always said, ” it is vitally important for success that all involved in a campaign should know what is being attempted and what their role is in the overall plan” Football is no different; all involved …. coaches … players…. parents…. must be part of the whole ‘show’ and understand how important their input is in the successful development of our young players.

  9. It would be interesting whether this total communication is needed elsewhere; presumably, the Spanish and the Dutch parents would be bewildered if you said we are going to do something revolutionary and pass the ball to each other!

    However, no doubt if you wanted to play ‘English’ football with these foreign kids, you would have some serious explaining to do to their parents, and their reactions might be slightly more reactive than the Brits being told there sons would from now on be asked to caress the ball, keep it on the floor and manipulate it… although for some English, this might be a painful pill of not seeing the ball carreeing towards the opponents goal – while their boys give chase – in some form of Skyfall!

  10. Hi All. It just makes common sense to include everyone involved in a project etc. to know what is intended and what each individual ‘s role includes. Gen. Montgomery, made it his business to explain to all ranks what their job was in the overall battle plan…. he didn’t do too badly did he !

  11. Watching the televised Under 16 Victory Shield match last week between England and Scotland, I thought that the Scottish team showed a better game understanding than what i have previously noticed for a few years now. Their pressing, knowing where and when, and the awareness of where and when to retain possession or penetrate, were good and evidence of their improvement.
    It was interesting to learn that the Scottish FA has handed the responsibility for youth development to a Dutchman, Mark Wotte, and he has a number of Dutch coaching assistants.Meanwhile, in England, we have appointed, at great expense, top foreign coaches to our national team, and expected them to wave a magic wand over very average players when tournaments come round, instead of taking a more far-sighted approach at junior levels as the Scots have done.
    The benefits for Scotland at senior level may not be felt for a number of years yet but the initial impression is that they are now on the right road. In England we leave our coaching structure to people developed in the English system and we just continue to muddle along..

  12. Hi Steve. You are absolutely right about the improved quality of the Scottish boys. England’s u/16 continue to win through physical means and not by playing football that displays a deep enough understanding of the game.
    The next generation of players’ has already been produced for our game — ‘fighters not footballers who ‘float’ around the edge of quality performance but who are unable to make the break-through because……….. THEY HAVE NOT RECEIVED THE CORRECT DEVELOPMENT METHODS NOR HAVE THEY ASSOCIATED THEMSELVES WITH THE HARD WORK AND TIME THAT IS REQUIRED TO REACH STANDARDS OF EXCELLENCE REQUIRED AT THE TOP OF THE GAME. In many ways this is not their fault, it is the fault of our development methods and those who produce and provide it.

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