Starting from Scratch vs. Rebuilding

By Rachel Smith, Head Coach, DeSales University  @dsu_womenslax

Many times, I have discussed with my colleagues the similarities and differences between starting a new program and rebuilding one. As it may seem completely crazy that these two things can deal with the same problems, it is true!


        Photo courtesy of DeSales Athletics.

Building a program starts with a vision from the coaching staff and the university. It takes time for the coach to feel out what they are looking to create but once they do, that is their selling point. The same goes for rebuilding a program, even though there is past history and legacies left by former players. In the now, the vision may need to change in order to get back to championship ways or even just winning ways. In both cases you need to share that vision with everyone and anyone you can speak to: coaches, the university, recruits, family and friends. The more you believe, the more your team will believe or prospective team.


This may be the most dissimilar area in my opinion. Recruiting all in itself is a crapshoot. You are going up against hundreds of different schools, trying to sell your program and university to pretty much all the same kids. However, it takes a special type of kid who wants to go start a program. They have a different mindset; they are a little bit more aware that they want to be a part of history and know that it’s going to be tough but rewarding. There is a niche for these kids, and in my experience, I usually lose that kid to another brand-new program. Going to a school that has had a program for over twenty years, that have seen success and championships, makes it easier for recruits to understand it can be done again. Many times, there’s a stigma that new programs may never get it done and may end up getting cut. Division I programs have definitely proved that wrong with the likes of Florida, USC, Navy, Michigan, Colorado and High Point finding success. New Division II programs have seen success as well and I do believe that scholarships help a great deal, but it’s still the same kid who believes your vision and wants to be a part of it at any level.


One of the most key elements in starting a new program and revitalizing one has to do with the culture you create. Let’s face it, if you go from winning to losing and sustaining that mediocrity it usually has to do with culture. Even though we like to look at recruiting as our issue, the recruits will want to come if the team’s culture is strong and they see their hope for the program. It starts with who you have in the locker room and the values you instill, from out of season to in season. Changing a culture is ultra-challenging and instilling a new one can be just as tough. It all boils down to sustaining that culture through the leadership on the team and not letting it falter.

Some might agree and some might not, but I do think that both starting a program and rebuilding one are equally as tough. Either way it takes a dedicated coaching staff to spend countless hours doing the little things, a team of players who are completely committed to the vision and of course hard work to make those dreams come to fruition.

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