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Coaching & Development, Leadership & Culture, Performance | Jul 25, 2016
Notre Dame's Director of Mental Conditioning on player-led cultures, being accountable and developing leaders in a high performance culture.

Derin McMains, Director of Mental Conditioning at the University of Notre Dame discusses player-led cultures, being accountable and developing leaders in a high performance culture.


We’d all be hard-pressed to find an organisation, coach, or team that would credit their team’s success to a lack of leadership. In fact, it’s the contrary. Year after year we hear about what role leadership played in the success of a team. In my experiences with the San Francisco Giants and now at the University of Notre Dame, I continue to see one trend that is consistent from the highest-performing teams. The best teams are “player-led”.

This doesn’t mean that the coach doesn’t play a significant role in the team’s success. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. The coach has done such a great job at clearly identifying his philosophy, values, and expectations on a consistent basis that the team can build their identity and team purpose from that. When a team has identity, purpose, and know what the coach wants then they come to each workout, practice, and game knowing what is required of them. And when athletes know what is required of them, their confidence goes up.

Coaches of “player-led” teams don’t spend their energy making athletes do their work. They spend their energy thinking about and creating an environment where athletes will choose to do their best work. Research consistently tells us that intrinsically motivated athletes outperform extrinsically motivated athletes. Coaches that are intentional in creating an environment that inspires an athlete to choose to give their best will get the most out of their athletes.

Coaches that are intentional in developing a team that is “player-led” empower the team leaders to own the process. Athletes will support what they help create. This generation of athletes have always had a choice in what they want. Most of their life they’ve got to choose which song to buy, instead of the whole album (iTunes), they got to choose which person stayed on their television show (American Idol), and they get to continually choose which show to watch and when they’re going to watch it (Netflix, Hulu, YouTube). They’ve grown up with choices. Developing leaders in a high performance culture require coaches to embrace this fact, and find a way to give their athletes a choice in the process.

 

“Coaches of “player-led” teams don’t spend their energy making athletes do their work. They spend their energy thinking about and creating an environment where athletes will choose to do their best work.”

 

Strategic choices in the process can mean having leaders of the team choose what drills to do in practice. For example, the coach can say we need to do drills A, B, C, and D by the end of tomorrow. Then, have the leaders choose which order they’d like to do them in. When they select the drills, they’ll be more likely to give their best effort and be more likely to hold their teammates accountable to giving their best because it was their choice. And that organically leads to another essential characteristic of developing leaders in a high performance culture: Accountability.

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Accountability means to hold yourself and others to the controllable expectations set by the team. Accountability only continually happens though if the expectations are clearly identified and modelled by the coaching staff. If emotional control is an expectation of the players on the field, then the coaching staff must model that and stay in control. If energy is an expectation of the players on the field, then the coaching staff must model that and infuse energy at practice. If a positive attitude is an expectation of the players on the field, then the coaching staff must model that and communicate positively. Expectations must be modelled, not demanded. Accountability continues through modelling, not demanding.

 

“Clarity breeds confidence. Confidence breeds ownership. Ownership breeds engagement. Engagement breeds accountability. “Player-led” teams that are accountable to one another starts with coach clarity.”

 

In summary, high performance cultures have teams that are “player-led”. Those players are confident, intrinsically motivated, and accountable. In order for that to happen within the coach’s philosophy, the coach must clearly, and consistently, communicate the team’s purpose, principles, and expectations. This clarity leads to confidence. Confident athletes enjoy coming to workouts, practices, and games and because they enjoy it they’ll choose to give their best effort. When they’re consistently giving their best effort, their improvement rate will increase and they’ll take a greater interest in owning the process. And when they own the process, they’ll naturally hold their teammates accountable to it as well. And this will continue to happen as long as the coaches continue to model what is expected.

Clarity breeds confidence. Confidence breeds ownership. Ownership breeds engagement. Engagement breeds accountability. “Player-led” teams that are accountable to one another starts with coach clarity.

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