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How to Build an Elite and Enduring Program

Jeff Janssen, Janssen Sports Leadership Center Yes, team building is important. But sport's best coaches consciously take team building to a whole new level by engaging in something much bigger and more enduring - PROGRAM Building.

Team building is primarily focused on a single season - figuring out how to get your athletes to commit to a common goal, understand their roles, communicate effectively, manage conflict, and play together as a team. Read Championship Team Building for more details: http://www.jeffjanssen.com/coaching/resources.html

Program Building, however, takes place on a grander scale; it has a longer-term focus and is all-encompassing. Program Building seeks to build and maintain a solid foundation of success and significance for the long run. Program Building is all about creating a respected organization that is built on deeply held values and strong and effective relationships. Further, it is about creating a program of significant and lasting value that often transcends sport.

If you look at some of sports most enduringly successful programs (North Carolina women's soccer, Arizona softball, Tennessee women's basketball) you will find a coach who has been and continues to be engaged in Program Building.


In having the opportunity to work with, observe, and learn from some of sport's best Program Builders, here are 14 strategies that you too can use to build an elite and enduring program.

1. Long-term vision of success.

Program Builders have a clear vision of what they want their programs to be and stand for. Their motivation is to build a solid program that is much bigger than themselves and stands the test of time. They are not interested in "one hit wonders" but want lasting success where they have the opportunity to compete for championships on a regular basis.

What do you want your program to stand for?

2. Committed for the long run.

Program Builders focus on establishing and maintaining a solid foundation of success that endures in the long run. They avoid the instant gratification mentality and are unwilling to take shortcuts by recruiting mercenaries. They realize that these tempting "quick-fix" solutions are merely a mirage and don't provide the long-term stability needed to build a program.

Are you committed to the long run?

3. Don't judge success only by wins/losses.

Program Builders develop a program that not only wins consistently on the playing field, but one that is successful and respected off of it as well. In this way, Program Builders have a multi-dimensional measure of success that goes beyond the scoreboard. In many ways they feel they are the shepherding a movement and are the key stewards of their program.

How do you evaluate the success of your season?

4. Selectively bring in recruits and staff members that share their vision and values.

Program Builders know that people are the key to success. Thus, they invest the time to recruit and select talented people who share their vision and values. Obviously talent is important. But Program Builders place a high premium on the character and the quality of the people that they recruit.

As North Carolina men's basketball coach Roy Williams says, "I'll take a guy who is a little short on talent. I'll take a guy who is a little short academically. But I will not take a guy who is short on character."

What criteria do you value when selecting and recruiting your athletes and staff?

For more info on how to recruit and select the right people for your team, read 7 Steps to Prevent the Selection/Recruiting Mistakes that Drive You Crazy and Devastate Your Program, which is linked below:


5. See their work as a platform for teaching people how to succeed in life.

Program Builders are teachers of life skills. They believe their purpose is to use sport as a setting to teach life skills. Pitt women's basketball coach Agnus Berenato takes this sacred responsibility very seriously. Visit one of her practices and at the first break each of her players will come over, look you in the eye, shake your hand, and introduce themselves to you.

This small and simple gesture is one that creates a lasting favorable impression and serves her players well for connecting with people in the real world. It's just one small example of the many things that Coach Berenato has instilled in her players to build a respected program on and off the court.

Similarly, assistant Tennesee women's basketball coach Dean Lockwood once told me, "I feel Coach Summitt's real passion is to develop women into leaders. Yes, she is competitive and wants to win championships. But her real passion is developing women who will be leaders in life."

What skills have your taught your athletes that they will be able to use 40-50 years after they leave your program?

6. Build life-long relationships with their people.

Program Builders continue to stay interested and involved with their athletes and staff even after they leave their programs. Many of their athletes still seek their advice and counsel long after they have graduated from the program. Program Builders highly value these ongoing relationships because they want to see their people succeed in the long run.

How many of your former athletes do you stay in touch with?

7. Provide their people with perspective.

Program Builders use the world at large to teach their athletes. They make sure to visit and expose their teams to places of historical significance on road trips whenever possible. They bring in experts on a variety of topics to continually educate and enlighten their teams. And they willingly find community service opportunities to work with and learn from those who might be less fortunate. All these outside efforts provide their athletes with a chance to reflect on how lucky they are and instill in them a consciousness and willingness to give back.

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