Developing leadership and positive team culture on the University of Michigan Mens Lacrosse team


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Coach John Paul from the University of Michigan talks about developing a positive team culture and how the skill of leadership can be learned by every player and is essential to each players development. My notes from our conversation are below:
The next season starts “the day after” their previous season ends. Each new team has its own identity, its own leaders and its own followers.
Summers present an interesting challenge because almost immediately after the season is over players are off in a variety of directions, however, Coach Paul uses the media that is available in this day and age, mostly group emails, to keep his players interacting and thinking about each other. Topics might be serious or they might just be a player sharing a joke or funny situation they experience during the summer, either way they are continuing their relationships and staying in touch.
Once players return to school the focus is on getting the freshmen settled and into what their program is about. Communicating standards, core values, expectations and letting them know what their program is all about is an immediate priority. Coach says he doesn’t have a system that he applies every year, but rather he has developed a set of tools over the 20 plus years he has been coaching at Michigan that he can apply to his team based on the composition of his team.
This years team has decided to form a leadership group of 10-12 players who each will be assigned 4-5 players to lead with each group having at least 1 freshman in it. Their duties are to ensure that team duties, tasks and events are properly communicated and attended to by everyone in their group. The smaller groups make it easier for the leader to manage and also allows them to get to know their group on a more personal basis and mentor them.
Previous years where his team has not had obvious leaders, Coach Paul did not assign leaders but rather let them develop by giving the upperclassmen additional duties to fulfill and seeing how they did with them. Things such as “stretching lines” and then rotating those duties amongst the available players and seeing how they develop. One year he didn’t pick captains until 4 weeks into the season and then only because the team felt they were ready and knew who those leaders were.
Getting the right players recruited and on the team is not an “exact science”, and has been hard in recent years because coaches have been forced to recruit players so early that they haven’t had time to demonstrate the character traits he is looking for. At present coaches have to make some predictions based on how the players interact with family, how they interact with others as they play.
Book recommendations:

The Hard Hat: This book is good for giving players something to strive for. Its like a substitute value system for players who are still struggling with what their values are. He had his leadership group read the book over the summer and then sign their names and year on the inside flap of the book to signify having read and studied the book. Coach Paul did that based on a recommendation from the books author, Jon Gordon, and he thinking it might have been even more effective for them to have purchased 50 copies and handed the book down from player to player. Either way, its a great read especially for lacrosse players because it is about a lacrosse player.
Legacy: by James Kerr. A great book about a great rugby team, the New Zealand All Blacks. There are many good lessons in this book but Coach Paul mentions that what impressed him most was how the superstars on this team all bought into the values and ethics of the team in all aspects. One of the things you would see an All Blacks player doing after a game would be to sweep out the locker room and clean it up “better than they found it”, even their visitors locker room. There is much more in this book for coaches to use to help their ...