3 Takeaways: Building a Championship Culture

By Danielle McCartan (@CoachMcCartan)

MONTCLAIR, NJ- In an intimate setting, coaches, parents, and athletes interacted with a panel of experts from high school, collegiate, and professional levels.  Hall of Fame basketball coach Bob Hurley Sr., Rutgers wrestling head coach Scott Goodale, and former New York Giant and two-time Super Bowl champion Chris Snee discussed ways to build a championship culture: “the essence of successful sports programs, and how these concepts are transferable, in first of series of town hall events in association with Parabolic Performance & Rehab” (Yogi Berra Museum and Learning Center). The audience takeaway was the following three points:

1. Programs need to be changed

We have entered an era in which kids, as young as six years old, are being forced to “specialize” in one sport.  Kids that play one sport are experiencing burnout and injuries at an alarming pace.  Seeking to reverse this trend, when recruiting potential wrestlers, Goodale says he “recruits at least a two sport guy”.

Gone are the days of pickup games and sandlot baseball (where New York Yankee legend and ten-time World Series Champion Yogi Berra honed his baseball skills).  Today’s kids are, instead, playing a full-schedule of organized games and varying levels of club ball. They are even attending skills showcases as young as ninth grade! Hurley, acknowledging that “we play more games than we practice”, cited the need to adhere to NBA superstar Steph Curry’s early basketball upbringing. He said “[Curry] is a pretty good example, his dad gave him a ratio of three hours of practice to one game; a 3:1 ratio”.  Goodale added that programs “need to recognize the importance of rest, sleep, hygiene, and nutrition”.

2. Player leadership

Captainship. Do teams need to have a captain or group of captains?  After all, the Yankees were captain-less for eight years between Don Mattingly and Derek Jeter’s tenures. Is there a better way?  What type of player is fit for this important leadership role?

Goodale remarked that he “has never had a captain”.  When pressed for more details by the town hall’s moderator, he replied: “they’re college kids… [and] I just don’t believe in having captains”.

Photo credit Danielle McCartan (@CoachMcCartan) Chris Snee (#76) heads out to the field for pregame warmups. Photo taken 12/25/06.
Photo credit Danielle McCartan (@CoachMcCartan) Chris Snee (#76) heads out to the field for pregame warmups. Photo taken 12/25/06.

Chris Snee, offensive lineman, was leader by example on both Giants Super Bowl winning teams (Super Bowls 42 and 46).  He stressed the importance of “showing up early and staying late after practice” and being “[an] extension of the coach [by making] myself available gor the young guys”.  With Tom Coughlin’s Giants, Snee was part of a leadership council in 2007- a committee comprised of “one or two” players from each unit. This unique idea was forged to empower veteran players to become a “liaison between the coach and the players”; to “relay [the coach’s] message to the younger players. It paid off for Coughlin and his team in the form of a Super Bowl championship.

3. “Buy in” 

With any program, it is important to have players and coaches on the same page and working towards the same goal.  That phenomenon begins in the classroom, quite literally.  Snee confirmed that in playing for the Giants, “we spen[t] more time in the classroom than on the field”.  Goodale explains, in recruiting: “If [a kid is] a little bit of a live wire, but he goes to school, gets the grades, and buys in to what were doing… I want that kid”.

Photo credit Danielle McCartan (@CoachMcCartan). Chris Snee and the New York Giants beat Tampa Bay Buccaneers (24-14) to win Wild Card playoff game on road to their Super Bowl 42 win. Photo taken on 1/6/07.
Photo credit Danielle McCartan (@CoachMcCartan). Chris Snee and the New York Giants beat Tampa Bay Buccaneers (24-14) to win Wild Card playoff game on road to their Super Bowl 42 win. Photo taken on 1/6/07.

Once a culture of student-athletes has been established, regardless of level of play, everyone must selflessly “buy in” to the common goal of the team.  Snee confessed: “My biggest fear as a lineman was letting the guys around me down.  I loved them.  They weren’t guys I was hanging out with off the field [but] you don’t have to do that”.

Hurley added: “All year long, it’s not about winning games, it’s about getting better. By then the [players] should believe that you’re playing your best, [then] let’s see what happens”.  Snee, on one of six Wild Card teams to ever win the Super Bowl, knows a thing or two about that.

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