Two-Way Communication Creates Winning Culture

This article was provided by Coaches Network

Nearly every athletics program—whether it a college or high school program—hopes to create a lasting culture of winning and success. Regardless of the size of the school or the level of competition, coaches are searching for ways to foster sustainable growth on their teams. Most coaches look to assert their own methods and philosophies when it comes to developing a team culture, but for Hope College’s Head Volleyball Coach Becky Schmidt it’s all about striking a balance with the players.  And Coach Schmidt’s system is one for high school coaches to emulate.

Schmidt’s 12-season coaching record at Hope is 326-79, with her total collegiate record being 364-112, ranking her among the nation’s elite
volleyball coaches. In 2014 she guided the Flying Dutch to their first national championship with a 6-0 run during the NCAA Division III Tournament. She continued to build on that success this past year with a 24-6 overall record during the regular season.

The success that Schmidt has sustained at Hope is a prime case study for developing a positive team culture. Through years of experimenting with different approaches, Schmidt has kept an open mind and has found the coaching style that works best for her team.

“Too often coaches think that it’s all or nothing, it’s this one way or the highway,” she says. “But I really believe the coaches that are providing the most positive cultures are those that are aware of the balance that they need to strike in the multiple ways that their program operates.”

Talking to players and asking them for suggestions is the primary tool that Schmidt has used to improve Hope’s volleyball program. “I would recommend having a clear vision of what you want to see from your team but also talking to them and asking them what they want to see from their experience as well,” she says.

Opening this line of communication with the student-athletes has helped Schmidt take the steps to improve in multiple areas. One thing that has changed over the years is the way she runs her practices. “As a coach you’ve got to balance being focused on a specific drill and also having a good time and enjoying the experience,” she says. “So the drill can’t be so hard that it become frustrating and cant be so easy that the athlete becomes bored.”

This has led Schmidt to change her coaching style over the years. Whereas she used to include dozens of different drills for each skill, now she has her players work on only a handful of drills that replicate in-game situations. Players are also given a chance to redeem themselves after making mistakes during certain drills. “The focus there is on not making the same mistake twice,” says Schmidt. “So there’s a technique piece of it but there’s also an attitude or a mindset piece.”

Fostering positive relationships with the student-athletes has helped Schmidt maintain the strong team culture that she has developed. There has to be fairness from you and trust from the players,” she says. “You can’t treat one player in a way that’s not fair for the rest of the team but I think every team is going to understand that players are different, what gets one person to be able to excel might be very different for someone else.”

Developing respect and trust from players is essential for any coach looking for long-term success. Schmidt recommends that coaches share their vision with the team while also collecting feedback from players so that everyone understands each other. It may not happen over night, but these methods will certainly help to foster the growth of a positive team culture.

“By talking to the student-athletes and showing a little bit of vulnerability they’re going to learn to trust you more,” she says. “When they see that you actually care about their perspectives and what their experience is like then you get a few allies on a team and you’re much closer to getting to a tipping where that culture then really starts to shift.”

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