Building Team Culture: Restorative Practices, Circles and Conversations

Effective coaches are constantly looking for ideas and opportunities to build a positive culture in their respective programs. I recently attended a 2 day workshop on a growing concept in schools around the idea of restorative practices.  This practice comes from the criminal justice field of restorative justice. Restorative practice is a fresh approach to dealing with conflict and building positive relationships.  As the workshop evolved – I could not help but think of how aspects of restorative practices could be used to build a positive culture with sports teams.

In prior posts, I have shared my book An Elite Journey:  A Young Man’s Leadership Story.  The main character CJ Harding, goes through a transformation after reading his late father’s leadership manual written for ELITE military officers.  His dad created an acronym for the word ELITE, and CJ’s growth comes from truly understanding the meaning of each letter.

In my most recent post, I shared the last lesson CJ learned from his father; the importance of being committed to excellence in all that you do.  As is the case with many elite athletes, CJ battles with perfectionism.  He is trying too hard, and it is blinding him to the progress that he is making.  CJ also struggles with living in his late father’s shadow, who was an elite athlete himself.  His father’s legacy casted a large shadow over CJ, who struggles dealing with comparisons.

In this post I would like to explore the idea of what is at the heart of a meaningful experience – powerful relationships and team culture.  Our relationships and team culture should be in constant restoration.  If we are intentional around how we speak to one another and how we respond to conflict, our relationships will begin to thrive and our team culture will become stronger.  Two ideas I would like to explore in helping restore culture are the use of team circles and the intentionality of conversations.

One powerful idea from the restorative practice workshop that would help build a positive culture is the simple idea of using team circles.  It seems fairly straightforward, but when a team begins and ends practice with a team circle, a shift in power moves from the coaches and most talented players – to an equal feeling of involvement and empowerment of all players.  A circle provides the team an opportunity to look each other in the eye and share in the moment.  This could lead to a check in before practice or a quick connector, and even closure at the end of practice.  In Phil Jackson’s book 11 Rings, coach Jackson writes in the first chapter about the importance of circles and how it helps build connection, harmony, and trust.

Furthermore, I would suggest to coaches to think about simple things, like how your chairs are arranged in your meeting rooms, or how your players stand in attention when you are addressing the team.  Moreover, if you know a parent/player is coming in to discuss a serious issue, and you have a feeling that it may be intense or emotional, think about the arrangement of the chairs prior to the meeting and reflect on how the setup of your chairs will help promote a more positive outcome.  As all effective coaches know, little things matter and success is not random.  For more information on effective use of circles, I would recommend the book Restorative Circles in Schools.

One comment the facilitator made in the restorative practice workshop that really connected with me was that he felt it took about 100 conversations to really make a connection. I really pondered that thought.  Now as coaches we are all very busy – but wouldn’t that be a great personal goal to try to have at least 100 conversations with each player before he/she leaves your program.  It could be short quick ones like, “Have a great weekend, do you have big plans?,” to more in depth ones.  It may even motivate you to go see your athletes in other venues, take more of an interest in them outside of basketball, or even pay more attention to the players that are not seemingly invested. It is amazing how many opportunities there are for connections when we become more intentional about our conversations.

As coaches we need to find common ground with our athletes before we can take them to higher ground. As the school year starts and you continue preparing for the season, think about how circles and conversations can help build, restore, and promote positive relationships and a thriving team culture.

I would like to thank the readers for your support with my book.  I would also encourage you to check out my book.  I have been getting a great response.  Please see what a few people have been saying:

“I love this book and so do my boys!  It encompasses so many lessons that will be valuable forever.”  Fran McCaffery University of Iowa Basketball Coach

“I wish I could have read An Elite Journey at age 15 instead of 28, but the story resonated just the same.  An absolute must read for every high school athlete.”

Joe Boylan Assistant Coach of Memphis Grizzlies

“It was a refreshing read, a powerful story that integrates old fashion values into today’s life.”

Greg Kampe, Oakland University Men’s Coach

Elite Journey is easy for my players to relate to, especially the the main character and his development throughout the story.  Coach Steve Norgrove: Boys Basketball Stoney Creek High School

If you are interested in finding out more about the book, please visit my website, or you can purchase it on Amazon.  You can also follow me on twitter @coachmassucci for any current news on the book or recent articles.  If you are interested in team discounts, please contact me at [email protected]

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