Developing a Successful Team Culture:  Authentic Community in Athletics

Each new school year begins with a set of goals. Administrators, teachers, athletic directors, coaches, and support staff work diligently to set their objectives and plans for how to meet those goals. As this new year begins, I want to challenge us to think about specific goals for athletics in our Christian schools.

Objectives such as participation, physical development, character development, team building, and winning often find their way to the top of the list. What should be near the top of every Christian school’s list of goals for its athletic program is building community. If done properly, a team that has built authentic community will flourish as coaches and athletes look forward to practicing, competing, and generally spending time together. The team culture will be such that student-athletes look forward to the next season, and the end of a season becomes more than an exercise in counting wins, losses, and post-season awards. Rather, it becomes a time of reflection for a collective job well done and a sadness over the fact that the community, which has been so carefully built, is ending.

After twenty-five years spent coaching and administrating athletics, I still get excited about the potential that educational athletics has to provide a unique “laboratory” to explore and practice what it truly means to live and play in community.

The Goal of Competition

Before digging deeper into the concept and practice of developing a successful community or team culture, I want to remind those of us leading interscholastic athletic programs that we must not stray from the core concept of competition. At the heart of athletic competition should be the desire to win. Too often this core goal is forgotten in the attempt to connect the students’ athletic experiences to the educational mission of the school. Sometimes it is set aside as administrators and coaches focus mainly on secondary outcomes, such as character development, participation, values education, and even community building. When we forget or deny that at the athletic core is the desire and attempt to win, we are building our team community on a false narrative.

But while winning the race, game, or match is the core goal, secondary goals are extremely important and essential to the student-athlete’s experience. If we keep this in mind as we gather to compete, we have the best chance to develop authentic Christian community within the framework of athletics.

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