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Culture of an athletic program can make more of a difference than talent

December 18, 2017

In modern sports, a lot of attention is given toward the talent and skill of particular athletes. Hours upon hours of programming and articles covering “draft stock” flood the airwaves of major sports networks. Yet, with a magnified look at local and national sports teams, it is easy to see the real reason behind the success or failure of a particular team.

Talent does make a difference. A team lacking talent can have boundless enthusiasm and maximum effort and still come up short. So, why do teams like the Cleveland Browns and the Philadelphia 76ers continue to get top draft picks and prospects from college and still manage to achieve a level of lackluster performance?

The answer is simple: these teams are missing a winning culture.

That does not mean that 76ers or Browns lose all the time (even though the Browns have) but that all the necessary pieces required in a successful organization are not there.

Take Omaha Central as an example. Lots of our coaches have built or are in the process of building winning cultures. As previously mentioned, talent cannot be completely forgotten, and it is undoubtedly much harder to find in high school. The recent struggles by the football program are indicative of a larger problem that occurred during the season. There was plenty of talent that could have contributed to a better previous two seasons. However, it becomes a fight with doubt after that first blowout loss. The Eagles could not recover for multiple reasons, but the absence of talent or glimmers of greatness is not one of them.

It only takes one loss to trigger a domino effect of positive or negative consequences.

Thoughts start going through athletes’ heads and they start to lose confidence in themselves and the purpose of the journey. That is how winless seasons are born; the process of getting better succumbs to emotion and personal goals. The programs that can take a loss and grow from it are the ones that can truly win.

As any sports fan knows, team sports require a commitment to the goals of the team in order for everyone to attain success. It is a concept known as “servant leadership,” as said by John Calipari, head coach of the Kentucky Wildcats. He explained in his book, Success Is The Only Option: The Art of Coaching Extreme Talent, that the success of each individual should be based upon others’ success, not always his or her own. This is normally a process for the young athlete to understand, especially when college coaches make promises about playing time. It becomes normal to care about yourself first when you’re a college athlete. That is not a terrible thing, as long as that occasional selfishness does not become a normal sight on the field of play.

Let’s go back to the 76ers. They played the Golden State Warriors– defending NBA champions –and found themselves down by 20 near the end of the half. Philadelphia has talent that is somewhat comparable to the Warriors; top draft picks and soon-to-be annual all-star selections. Teams with a losing culture would play their bench and accept their fate. The Warriors chose to continue fighting, fix mistakes, and because of a winning culture along with top talent, they pulled out a victory. If the roles would have been flipped, the Warriors would have won by 40.

It is because the 76ers are in the process of building that winning culture. They have looked better than they have in previous ugly seasons, but it takes time to build camaraderie and accountability.

The Huskers have found themselves in a similar predicament; multiple athletic programs with low achievement. A 4-8 season sparked the dismissal of head football coach Mike Riley after three seasons, and men’s basketball coach Tim Miles is on the hot seat. Both coaches are fantastic role models and class acts, but those characteristics do not always translate to on-field success. Nebraska fans have certainly made that known.

Which brings the discussion to a greater point: coaches are a vital component. As much as the players are responsible for the on-field product, the ones who guide these players along the way determine the attitude of the program. That is why fan bases get so vocal when it comes to a coach; young players make mistakes, but coaches that get paid by the millions should not make that many.

Coaches, players and fans all have a role in how the culture of a particular program is received. It is up to each individual piece to determine whether that perception is an honorable one.

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