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How to Win

Setting Standards

W. Somerset Maugham said, “It is a funny thing about life: If you refuse to accept anything but the best you very often get it.”

Last night there was a special about high school bands on television. One of the band directors remarked that each season involved at least two dynamics: the ninth-graders learning the system and the 12th-graders showing good example.

That, as well as anything, explains a strong team culture. In a situation where people come and go each year, what beliefs and values remain constant? The answer to that question is your team culture.

Coaches and players decide what the team standards are going to be. They decide “how things are going to be done around here.” Coaches can suggest, lead, drive and enforce, but in the end there must be buy-in from the players.

That’s why Mike Krzyzewski, when he first sat down with the U.S. Olympic basketball team in 2008, wanted to hear what his players had to say. One by one they spoke. One player said they must all be on time. Another said there must be no excuses. Little by little the team built its own definition of the way thing were going to be done.

It should be clear that the higher the standards, the higher the results are likely to be. When players expect little from each other and from themselves, then they will receive little. It’s hard not to wonder what the collective value systems are on teams when you see so many big-time college athletes getting arrested.

Henry David Thoreau said, “Aim above morality. Be not simply good. Be good for something.”

Getting players to speak about their values, standards and expectations is an important part of building a team. When the ideas come from the players themselves, there is more ownership and hopefully more accountability.


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