Changing team culture: The perspectives of ten successful head coaches

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Journal of Sport Behavior





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Coaches are under increasing amounts of pressure to succeed and are constantly looking for ways to improve their teams. One tactic for improvement that has received little attention is the development of team culture, or a team's social and psychological environment (Martens, 1987). While it has become a common term in the coaching lexicon, team culture is not well understood (Anderson, 2007; Thamel, 2005; Voight & Carroll, 2006; Whiteside, 2004). Therefore, this study used the organizational culture perspective to investigate the degree to which team improvement featured a change in team culture. In addition, the study sought to identify the leadership behaviors used by coaches to change team culture. Ten NCAA Division I head coaches were interviewed. Each guided a previously unsuccessful team to championship levels within five years. A qualitative analysis indicated that these turnarounds featured changes in team culture. Coaches started the cultural change process by creating core sets of values specific to their teams. To ingrain these values, coaches taught them with several tactics, recruited athletes who would embrace team values, and punished and rewarded consistent with the values. These actions were taken with respect to the unique environments of each team. The results were generally consistent with the literature on organizational culture change. However, the speed of culture change was more rapid than previously reported due to the environment of intercollegiate athletics. Additionally, the findings may offer coaches new means for team improvement by focusing on the symbolic and interpretive elements of team membership.