“Tiger Teams” Win Consistently

Any “recipe” for high-performance requires a conscious adaptation to context. Coaching in team sports offer wonderful metaphors that transfer to the challenges found with improving performance across the private, government and charitable sectors. Sometimes great examples come from unexpected sources…

Consider Battle Creek’s tiny St Philips Central Catholic High School. Their school mascot is the tiger. It has about 150 kids – in the entire school. It’s small but it’s strong. The coach and students deliver a Class D volleyball state championship team year after year. In fact, five years running. Their example – if you look closely – offers some terrific lessons from the volleyball court that could be useful for managing and leading more effectively.

The Tiger recipe has four big pieces.

1. Team First. Nothing comes before the team. While some “star players” pass through – it’s the whole that gets the most attention. It’s the vital force of cooperative, coordinated play that scores points. While each athlete has a function in their relative position – the entire team, on the court and the bench, wins or loses. To underscore team – two critical, interactive areas are emphasized: practice and culture.

Practice ensures players master the basics. Practice also develops skills and intentional, strategic routines. It ensures interdependence, commitment and encourages trust. Practice takes lots of time. Through practice synchronicity emerges naturally. Culture gets built piece by piece through special traditions. Vital details like an encouraging quote before games, shared meals, common hair ribbons and planned celebrations for a service ace or point-winning block contribute to norms. Discipline is consistent. Late to practice and other mishaps have the same penalty regardless of a player’s proficiency on the court. Negative attitudes and other issues are addressed promptly.

2. Build The Bench. Many students spend loads of time watching, practicing with and cheering on their teammates. In any given season – nearly half a team warms the bench. The team carries extra players to be sure it has deep strength in each position. The coach has an intentional development plan. She isn’t lining up just this year’s win but the next several. All players earn a spot on the court through practice effort and, ultimately, performance. A bench means there’s always a “plan B” if someone moves, gets an attitude or is injured.

3. Test Against The Best. The St. Phil coach seeks a tough game schedule during the regular season. She enters her team in tournaments with far larger, taller, stronger teams from Class A, B and C schools. Some have thousands of students with significant athletic programs.  The Tigers are expected to play well and win often. They intentionally sharpen their game against very tough competition. While consistently smaller in size – the quality of the team play, their nimble synergy and sheer will translates to frequent upset wins. At long odds, the integrated and cohesive whole out-plays other teams.

4. Relentless Positive Focus (RPF). All along the journey of pre-season, the game schedule and into play-offs there is a “relentless positive focus.” When a playing error occurs – teammates are quick to pat a bottom, slap a hand and encourage attention to the next move. There is joyful energy and intensity about the “work” and there’s a shared commitment to the results. The coach’s attitude challenges and encourages the players. She asks for a big appetite. A RPF aims the players at the one reason they play: to win. It translates to a stellar win-loss record of serial state championships.

However, a RPF and the rest of the recipe have many other critical outcomes for these young women. They provide valuable lessons in commitment, equity, interdependence, focus and accountability. These principles are also ones “coaches” in every organization can encourage for consistent wins.

Lisa Wyatt, Ed. D. is a strategy architect and partner in Phillip Wyatt Knowlton, Inc. PWK is a performance management resource for systems change with clients worldwide. Lisa has cross-sector and international experience. She is an author and W.K. Kellogg Leadership Fellow. See : www.pwkinc.com

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