Why Culture Matters

By Hedy Veith, Assistant Coach, Tufts University @Tufts_Lacrosse

Culture is unique. It looks different for every program, and there is no one right way to do it. Despite what your team culture is, it should be clearly defined. The cultural foundations should be explicitly stated so everyone is always on the same page. From changing generations, a pandemic, growing success, or bumps in the road, culture goes through a lot, so it needs to have a solid foundation. I believe to define culture and to make it lasting, it’s important to think about three things: your what, your why and your how.

Photo courtesy of Tufts University Athletics.

WHAT

This one can be straight forward. What do you want your culture to be? What do you want your success on the field to look like? What do you want your student-athletes’ experience to be like? What do you want to prioritize? I think it’s important to think about culture in five buckets: Team, Individual Player Experience, School, Community, Alumni Experience. Culture will impact all five of these buckets. What do you want your goals in each bucket to be and how do they interact with each other? What do they look like in the vision of your system?

WHY

Why do you want your culture to look like this? In figuring out your whys, you’re able to dive deeper into your values and how you seem them translated into the game of lacrosse. For most, playing lacrosse ends at the end of four years. Many of the lessons that our players learned will be translated into their professional careers, whatever they may be. Figuring out your whys will help give your players a comprehensive toolbox for when they graduate. It will also give your players purpose for how and why they give back to your program when they graduate.

HOW

The how is action. How will you put into practice what you want your culture to look like? How will you get buy in from your players as to why your culture is the way that it is? How will you adapt if you need to? How will you stay strong in the face of adversity that may question your culture? How will you delegate to your staff? How does your culture translate to small details and big game plans? How will you make sure that the screws are constantly being tightened?

When it comes to culture, I’m in a unique position. I have the pleasure of coaching for my alma mater. When I first graduated from Tufts, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do in my career (and I still don’t!). But one thing that always crossed my mind during my time at Tufts was how do I make sure that I continue to help build and sustain our culture even after I leave. As a senior at Tufts, we talk about leaving the program better than you found it. It’s built into our culture; every year, each senior class strives to leave the program better than they found it. That may mean pushing each other harder on the field, studying more in the library, supporting other teams on campus, or volunteering more in the community. As alumnae, we talk about what else we can do for the program. That may mean streaming a game during work hours, gathering support for fundraising efforts, or making sure to wear Tufts Blue in the stands. Now, I get to coach for the same program and have the opportunity to continue to work to build and sustain the culture that so many other women have worked to build and create. My job now is to continue to tighten the screws in our foundation.

Culture isn’t this large concept. It’s every day. It’s making the deliberate and intentional choice to continue to grow and improve your culture in small moments. We can’t expect our players to believe in our culture if we don’t expose them to its foundations every day. You work hard every day to build and sustain it so that when the hard and unimaginable moments occur, you immediately default to what you’ve built. It’s in the hard moments of life where you find some silver linings. Losing a player is unimaginable; it’s something that few have experienced. But in the days, weeks and months after losing Madie, our staff found comfort in the culture that so many had worked to build. It’s hard moments that make you realize that culture is essential and that it needs to be nurtured. When your culture is where you want it to be, it makes it easy to fall back on and trust it.

Culture matters. It affects the student-athlete experience. It affects the greater college community. It affects parents. It affects alumni experience and their ability to stay connected. While we all want to win, chase our dreams of championships, and break records, it’s culture that wins at the end of the day. It’s asking, “did I leave this program better than I found it?” It’s finding ways to nurture your culture to sustain it but to also give our players a toolbox – skills like leadership, communication, work ethic, grit – that they’ll be able to reflect on and use in the years post-graduation.  Culture is why we play and coach the game. Culture, at its core, is team.

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