Creating and Developing a Quality Team Culture

Planning a rugby programme in my environment isn’t as simple as designing training sessions to optimise performance. Players must balance academic, internship, and job commitments with their rugby often being last on the list because of the finances needed to pay their tuition fees. They bring with them a range of personalities, skills, experiences and attributes in which my job is to empower them to create and develop a quality team culture (Kidman, 2005) to perform to their potential which is fundamental to the future success of the team. This requires planning in which I consider the following components shown in Figure 1:-

Figure 1: Team Culture Planning Stages

These processes are consistent with self-determination theory (Deci & Ryan, 2000) in which developing autonomy, competence and relatedness are central to the planning process to meet their psychological needs.

The vision (Valleé & Bloom, 2016) is crucial by starting with the end in mind (Covey, 2004). It is the most important part of the process for me. It should be done before anything else so all players are on the same page knowing we are heading in the same direction, otherwise bumps in the road will occur that will derail the team in the future, particularly with a large turnover of players each season and the inconsistent attendance at training.

“You must spend more time on building your culture than on anything else.” (Gordon & Smith, 2015)

The PLG (Hodge et al., 2014) shares different responsibilities for driving the team forward and spreading the work load as players often can’t make every training session because of irregular evening tutorials/lectures. These discussions start to set the direction of the team and what their Ss&Es will be, i.e. Empowerment (Kidman, 2005).

“Culture drives expectations and beliefs; expectations and beliefs drive behaviour; behaviour drives habits and habits create the future. It all starts with culture.” (Gordon & Smith, 2015)

The first Motivational video (Robertson, 2018) consists of some key underlying principles, one of which is making the players know and understand that they are a part of something bigger than themselves (Ryan, 2018). I share old photos of previous teams dating back to the first team of 1974, i.e. Relatedness (Deci & Ryan, 2000), clips of more recent teams in action, plus action of some of the key players in the current team (Relatedness) so that players gain a deeper connection/meaning to the team. Ending with “How do you want to be remembered…?!” to open an emotional connection to their team with the aim to get them to commit more effort and time to the team as they all have busy/conflicting schedules.

Allowing players to decide their Ss&Es (Gilbert, 2017), i.e. Autonomy (Deci & Ryan, 2000) empowers them to take ownership (Kidman, 2005). Each member of the PLG is responsible for a particular area. Around Campus is included as they are representing the team and its history because it used to have a bad reputation. They are randomly assigned different players and discuss thoughts/ideas for 10-15 minutes. The PLG player then feeds back to the whole squad. There is then an opportunity for other players to share their thoughts and add or takeaway anything (Autonomy), thus creating shared Ss&Es and more buy-in. I’ll ask questions if anything needs clarifying to double check everyone is clear.

At the second squad meeting the Motivational Video is very similar to the first video. Training has started so some photos/videos of themselves, i.e. Competence (Deci & Ryan, 2000), are added to integrate more Relatedness into their video.

Discussing how the players want to play the game and identify the roles of each position in the team (Coyle, 2019) are further steps to ensure everyone is on the same page, otherwise confusion will occur under the intense pressures of a match. Explaining how we are going to train and more importantly why is an important step to prevent any rumblings behind the scenes questioning the approach [they haven’t experienced Games Based coaching before] that could potentially derail team spirit. A mixture of their tries being scored/conceded (Relatedness), plus professional ones are shown to improve their game understanding (Competence). Positional groups discuss the question “What does your position do on the field?”, share what they discussed (Autonomy) and agreed upon to the rest of the squad so everyone is aware of each others’ role.

Identifying Cultural Architects (Hughes, 2018) and the Non-Negotiable Behaviours of the team cements their Ss&Es. Players share their thoughts (Autonomy) on what are the behaviours when successful and the key themes are identified. Once there is a consensus between the squad, players rate themselves /10 on the 3-5 factors. I then ask which player(s) in the squad demonstrate these factors (Autonomy and Relatedness). From this the squad is picking who their leaders are (Empowerment).

Planning different Social Events throughout the season aims to grow the team spirit and integrate new players into the team because there is a large turnover of players as their schedules often change from season to season. The more interactions there are between players, the stronger the team culture will be (Coyle, 2019). Combining this with doing volunteering at public events/festivals brings a wider meaning to doing something far greater than one’s self, therefore the players will be more willing to give up their time outside of their non-rugby commitments.

Identifying the Rituals (Johnson et al., 2013) of the team (Relatedness), e.g. being in a circle (Coyle, 2019), help create quality team cultures. At the end of training we finish in a huddle. Any new member to the Club will answer three simple questions to introduce themselves to the team, make them feel welcomed and for the team to accept them into the squad (Relatedness):-

  1. Where are you from?;
  2. What year are you in?;
  3. What Major are you studying?.

We then breakout to a squad photo to build up memories for the team.

Artefacts (Johnson et al., 2013) are awarded to players at the end of each week with the “Hard work and Effort in Training” jersey awarded to the player that has demonstrated those qualities. At the end of a match the “Play of the match” jersey is awarded to the player that mirrored one of the team’s values/behaviours. Both players wear these jerseys the following week during to emphasize what is important to the team and what is valued in the team (Competence and Relatedness). Plus create the desire for players to want to wear one of the jerseys, thus striving for more effort/attendance at training.


Covey, S. (2004) The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change, Simon & Schuster UK Ltd

Coyle, D. (2019) The Culture Code: The Secrets of Highly Successful Groups, Random House Business

Deci, E. L., & Ryan, R. M. (2000). Self-Determination Theory and the Facilitation of Intrinsic Motivation, Social Development, and Well-Being, American Psychologist, 55:1, 66-78

Gilbert, G. (2017) Coaching Better Every Season: A Year-Round System for Athlete Development and Program Success, Champaign, IL: Human kinetics

Gordon, J. & Smith, M. (2015) You Win In The Locker Room First: The 7 C’s to Build a Winning Team in Business, Sports and Life, John Wiley & Sons, Inc

Hodge, K., Henry, G., & Smith, W. (2014) A Case Study of Excellence in Elite Sport: Motivational Climate in a World Champion Team, The Sport Psychologist, 28, 60-74

Hughes, D (2018) The Barcelona Way: Unlocking the DNA of a Winning Culture, Macmillan

Johnson, T., Martin, A. J., Palmer, F. R., Watson, G., & Ramsey, P.L. (2013) Artefacts and the All Blacks: Rites, Rituals, Symbols and Stories, Sporting Traditions, 30:1, 43-59

Kidman, L. (2005) Athlete-centred Coaching: developing inspired and inspiring people, IPC Print Resources

Robertson, S. (2018) ‘Creating a World Class Culture’ with Scott Robertson (Head Coach, Crusaders Super Rugby Champions 2017, 2018 & 2019) hosted by Yale University, USA

Ryan, B. (2018) Sevens Heaven, Weidenfeld & Nicolson: The Orion Publishing Group Ltd

Valleé, C. N. & Bloom, G.A. (2016) Four Key to Building Championship Culture, International Sport Coaching Journal, 3, 170-177

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