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Plant City Observer Thursday, Dec. 6, 2018 1 week ago

What’s on Kline’s Mind? Can culture keep the kids?

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Even without championships, strong culture could be key to survive transfer periods.
by: Justin Kline Sports/Associate Editor

If you talk to coaches before or early in any sports season, one thing you’ll hear a lot about is culture.

New coaches always want to dive right in and build a strong culture from the ground up. Returning coaches want to keep building or keep what’s already been realized on the right track. Seasoned veterans want to make sure it’s clear their programs will carry themselves the way they’re known for.

It’s probably schools’ best — if not only — hope for program survival in a time where kids have more freedom to change scenery than ever before. Every coach wants to create or maintain a strong culture, but it’s not as simple as it sounds.

The art of coaching itself goes beyond strategy and game planning. It’s a tough exercise in management, controlling people’s emotions and conceptions and attitudes. What good is there in having a great game plan if no one on the playing field wants to run it for you? You have to be more than just a motivational speaker to make sure your culture doesn’t sink that low.

The best programs in this area (and pretty much everywhere, for that matter) work so well because the people in charge are really good at two specific things: keeping their egos in check and keeping it real with their athletes. Your kids will always work hard for you if they believe in you and, now that they have so much freedom to move around, the concept of blind loyalty is becoming obsolete. 

You can talk all you want about being a catalyst for change and rebuilding and pretty much trademarking doing things “The (insert mascot here) Way.” But if you can’t look in the mirror and honestly say you’re the kind of coach you’d want to play for at your athletes’ age, they’re going to quit on you. They’re going to have horrible body language and question your judgment (even when they know the Observer guy is standing just a few feet away). They’re going to leave your team. They’re going to talk to their peers and others about what it was like to play for you and that word will spread. Trust me: they will talk.

Maybe it’s Plant City’s famous small-town feel spreading its roots around, but these kids like feeling like they’re part of a big, loving extended family more often than not. They like playing for coaches who give them a reason to believe in themselves when they step onto the playing field. They want coaches who aren’t too proud to admit when their game plans are failing and aren’t afraid to try something new on the fly to correct course. They also want coaches who are too proud of their teams to give up on them. If they’re coming from a truly good culture with good people running the show, they’re going to go all-in for the college coaching staff that makes them feel the same way you and your staff did. I’ve heard it many times over many years from many kids in many sports.

If your heart’s not in it, they’ll know. Even if you try to cover for it with motivational posters and social media posts and other optics, they’ll see through it. No matter how far along your culture is, you have to be the kind of coach anyone would want to play for if you want to give yourself the best odds of keeping your kids from transferring after the season.

Justin Kline is the Sports/Associate Editor at the Plant City Observer. He has been covering all things sports-related in the Winter Strawberry Capital of the World since 2013.

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