Usually after a program goes through several bad seasons, the fans, schools, and players are ready for a change. After a search, most places name a new coach in order to reverse their fortunes. Normally, in the first interview with the press, the new coach will state his plans, and that invariably leads to the now famous, “I want to create a winning culture” remark. Every coach wants a winning culture, but what is it? How does one create a winning culture? I have been fortunate enough to have been through one coaching change in my whole athletic career. For the life of me, I don’t know specifically what we did, but we did change from a losing attitude to a winning one in one short year.
Thinking back, I think there are several pieces to a winning culture, especially at the High School level: participation, belief in the system, willing to work, coaches on the same page. I think the first thing to look for is how the new coach brings more athletes into the program. It must start at the 7th grade level. You must convince kids to try out for sports, and become part of something. Then, you must be teaching them what you want in your program, how it will work if adhered to, and to continue to grow through the years.
One example I can give is the Greenville High School coach, Kyle Joseph. I have never met Kyle, nor do I know much at all about him, but I do know that when he came here, I am told his first basketball camp had about 30 students; now it has over 130. That is growing a program! Students must be buying in to what he is selling. By just the growth in the program, it looks like students believe in the system, the second part of the equation. I am just looking at the program from the outside, I do not know for sure, but this is my observation.
The third part of the program is do you have athletes willing to work and sacrifice to become successful? This may be the trickiest part of the equation, especially in High schools. Let’s be honest here, sometimes you have kids that work their butt off, but literally have very little talent. That may be hard for parents to hear, but it is fact; some kids are better than others!
Sometimes, teams go through several years where there is talent lacking. The coach who 2 years ago was winning consistently is the same guy who is losing now. Coaches can only work with what they have, that is why building a winning culture is important.
Ask Coach Newland, the Greenville softball coach. He is a consistent winner, his program is flourishing, and his success has won one State Championship. Continued excellence is tough to do, and his program is highly successful because of the culture he has created. They are near the top every year, and that is the idea, get to the point where you have a chance to win it all, and he does! That is a winning culture!
The last part is having coaches throughout the system who understand what the head Varsity coach is trying to do. That may seem easy, but I remember back in the day, things were not coordinated throughout the system, so you might learn one thing in 7th grade, and something else in the 8th grade. I do not follow the Greenville basketball program that closely, but I hope his assistants are all on his page. That is highly important and creates that consistency needed throughout the athlete’s career. He or she understands what is expected, and what they are doing.
Finally, what do you want your student athlete to learn from their experience? Winning is wonderful, beats everything else, but there is more to it than that. Has the athlete learned to work with others for the team? Have they progressed in their talents? Did the student enjoy their time competing and will miss it when it is over? What kind of person has the athlete become? Someone whom the school and parents can be proud of is by far the quality measuring stick.
This is neither an endorsement nor and indictment of Coach Joseph. I am not that familiar with his program, but I hear things about it. He started out with a small program and has grown the interest of the students. He has won 3 games this year which is more than the last two. I hear parents complain, but I have heard no students complain. What does this all mean? To me, it means he may be very slowly on the right path for future success. Only time will tell. That is how I see it from the sidelines.
Contributing columnist Mike Stegall a 27 year former OHSAA high school football official and current Darke County Commissioner