Building Team Culture Using a Great Communication Framework

Whether you are in the pre-season phase or have taken over a team in midseason, developing a system that allows for smooth flowing communication within your team will do wonders for team culture.

At the moment, we are going through the experience of taking over a team that already played 46 of their 68 regular season games. Even at this late point in the season, we immediately set out to change the framework for the type of communication flow we wanted. This was the starting point to build a new team culture.

The first step we took in building our communication framework was to address the entire team and clearly outline what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior, on and off the ice. Discipline, good habits, and such topics were outlined to the team. But the starting point was communication.

We stressed that communication needs to be based on respect and common courtesy. One point we made, as basic as it may sound, is the use of ‘please’ and ‘thank you’; basic common courtesy words. We also set up a scenario where players and staff were encouraged to vocally greet each other when they came in contact with each other for the first time each day. The act of saying ‘Good Morning’ to each other was a positive starting point for us.

The next step was to have one-on-one meetings with each player. We allowed 15 minutes for each, with the ability to go longer if needed. Here we identified individual player strengths and weaknesses, and with player and the coaching staff interaction, we agreed on the role each player would play on the team. Highlights of the meeting were written down for future reference. Free flow between each player and the coaches has to happen. A one-sided conversation is hardly a desired situation.

As the head coach, be sure to do the same with assistant coaches, trainers, staff, and team personnel.

Trainers are of particular interest in setting the communication for your team and building a positive culture. They are typically the daily first point of contact for your players as players arrive at the rink. This needs to be positive interaction for all to set an upbeat mood for the day.

Having a positive communication system is essential. Sure, there will be times when there might be a need to reprimand, address negatives, and yell a little. All these situations can be handled in a respectful and constructive way.

Dealing with every situation in a consistent way will help keep the lines of communication in tact and information flowing in all directions.

Taking the time to clearly define acceptable behavior within your team, taking the time to meet individually with all involved, and focusing on positive reinforcement will help establish a strong team culture.

How Do You Start Your Pre-Season?

Frank Hubley has been coaching for over 30 years, mostly at the high school level. His teams are always competitive and hard working. Frank is an educator and has a Bachelor of Physical Education degree from the University of New Brunswick. Here is how he handles tryouts.

How do you get your tryouts started?  Do you just give out the dates and times and then have players show up for the first ice session?  There are many ways that coaches do the tryout process and it varies between age groups.

Here is one way that I use and find to be very effective.

I have a player meeting prior to going on the ice, typically 5-7 days in advance.  This gives the players and parents some time to think about the things I have said.  At this meeting:

  • players are given the ice times for tryouts.
  • no guarantee anyone a position on the team.
  • I then provide them with an overview of my expectations for them, if they make the team.
  • Players are given a brochure to take home for their parents to read, along with a permission slip.  Why do I do this? The brochure gives the players and parents information on practice times, tournaments, off ice, finances and fundraising.
  • Parents are asked to attend a meeting prior to tryouts.  This meeting is typically 2-3 days prior to the first tryout.

When the parents come to their meeting they now have information on which they can ask questions – if they wish. The brochure serves as a very valuable information tool for me.

At the parent meeting I inform the parents:

  • that ice time is not something I will discuss
  • I am not there to please them but to coach their son
  • they will all contribute to the fundraising projects and that
  • I am the coach- I run the show.

I believe it to be very important for parents to know my philosophy and how the team will be run prior to allowing their son to tryout for the team.  Could you imagine a parent not knowing the cost of playing hockey and their son makes the team and they can’t afford it!

Having a meeting prior to tryouts and gets rid of many problems.  You lay out your beliefs and philosophy.  If they agree, then you have them. If not, then you get the people who want and believe in what you are doing.  As I tell them, 38 students have signed up to try out for the team.  If you as a parent do not like what I say and only 20 players show up on the ice, then I only have to release one player.

Over time I have found this to be a good way of approaching the tryout process.  Everyone knows up front how the ship is going to sail and who is the captain.  I believe this to be very important.

Once the tryouts are finished I have another meeting with the parents whose sons made the team and lay out plans for the year.

Not every league or team can do this but at the High School where I coach this is the way I do it and it works for me.

My suggestion is be up front and firm and things will fall in place.