Your 10-Step Blueprint to Build a Championship Culture

by Jeff Janssen, Janssen Sports Leadership Center

Looking to build a Championship Culture in your program? As detailed in our book How to Build and Sustain a Championship Culture, here is an overview of a proven 10-Step Blueprint you can use to build a Championship Culture in your program based on our work with over 30 teams that have won NCAA national championships.


The first step in creating a Championship Culture is to clearly envision and describe the kind of culture you want and need to be successful. As Stephen Covey, author of the best-selling book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People suggested, Begin with the End in Mind. Begin with your overall Vision for your program. Think about what you want to achieve as a program, the kind of culture you want to create, as well as what you ultimately want to stand for.

Consider the kind of results you want to achieve with your program both on and off the playing fields. Consider your preferred brand and reputation as a program. And consider the kind of relationships you want to have with your athletes and staff. How do you want to treat each other? How do you want to feel when you are together practicing and competing?

What do you want to be known for?
What do you want your opponents to say after competing against you?
What do you want to stand for in your school, conference, and sport?
What do you want people on campus and in the community to say about your program?

Your answers to these key questions will help you figure out the kind of culture you want to build with your program. As a coaching staff you must be clear about the overall Vision and direction of your program before you can expect to have anyone else embrace it and live it.


Once you have fully envisioned and described the kind of culture you want and need to be successful, you then must examine and assess your existing culture. With a calm and clear mind, invest the time to realistically assess your current situation. Take the time to honestly evaluate your current culture in terms of its strengths and weaknesses. As painful as it may be for some coaches or athletic administrators, you must accurately assess your present culture to help you know how best to move toward a better one.

Check out our previous blog post on the 8 Kinds of Cultures to see which one best describes your current culture. Involve your staff and your trusted team leaders to get their insights as well. Talk with the people in the culture and ask them what they like best about the current culture as well as what concerns them about it. The key is to see how well your present culture matches up with your preferred culture and the one that you think will be best for the program moving forward. Ultimately you will likely find some small and significant gaps in terms of where you are now and where you would like to be.

What do you like best about your present culture?
What concerns you the most about your present culture?

“No matter the size of your team or the challenges you face, it is the job of leaders to help their people understand why it’s not acceptable to remain where you are, that you must move toward a better future, and why it’s safe to do so, much safer than not doing so.”
Adrian Gostick and Chester Elton, Authors of All In


Once you are clear about the overall Vision and culture you want for your program and have accurately assessed your present culture as a coaching staff, you now need to begin the process of attracting, recruiting, selecting, and keeping athletes and staff who passionately share your same Vision, Values, and Standards. This is an ongoing process but one that you must continually keep in mind as you look to find people who are a great fit. Your culture should attract and retain people who admire it and want to be a part of it.

You MUST be very selective about who you add to or keep in the mix. Obviously you need highly talented athletes and staff but carefully screen people to see if there is a strong match between your Vision, Values, and Standards. You want to screen the person as much as possible to see if they are a good fit for the culture you want to create or maintain. Be sure to talk with others who interact with them often like coaches, teachers, and even opposing coaches and athletes. They will let you know what the person is really like and if they are a match for your program.


Once you have a team of people who seem to be a strong fit with your Vision, Values, and Standards, be on the look out for those who embrace the new culture, exemplify it every day, and have the courage to enforce it with their teammates. These are your leaders. Identify, train, select, and empower leaders who best embody the Vision, Values, and Standards of your preferred culture.

Your team leaders work closely with you as the primary creators, champions, and caretakers of your culture. You must empower them and partner with them to co-lead the team along with your staff. Harness their influence on the team and use it to drive and reinforce the culture you need to be successful. They will be your voice in the locker room, weight room, classroom, and at parties when you’re not around. They will echo your philosophy and reinforce it with the rest of your team.

Getting the right leaders on board, working with them, mentoring them, and trusting them will be critical to your program’s success. (For a proven system for developing your leaders, I highly recommend you check out our Team Captain’s Leadership Manual, which includes a 10-week leadership development program for empowering your leaders.)

Once you establish your leaders, communicate with them on a regular basis. I recommend meeting briefly with your leadership team, including your coaches and captains, on a weekly basis to monitor the progress of the team. We use a sheet called the Captain’s Weekly Monitoring Sheet to guide the discussion about where your team is currently and how your leaders can best influence the team throughout the course of the week.

Want to learn more about Building a Championship Culture?

Steps 5-10 are available to our Championship Coaches Network members at this link or by getting a copy of our book - How to Build and Sustain a Championship Culture.


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