“Never underestimate the value of a low maintenance player.” – John Beilein

When people ask me about the elite success we sustained at Rhode Island College (Hey! Look, you can read a book about it here!), I always say the same thing: We had elite talent willing to buy in to a championship culture. No question we had great players that were a huge part of the winning we did, but the sustainability came from the culture. While I was there, when media ask how we continued to have success year after year, I would always tell them to come watch us practice. Watch what we do every day, and you’ll have your answer. You’d see elite players competing their brains out for one another.

Over time I realized that the fabric of our team, who we really were on a day to day basis, wasn’t due to our elite talent, but due to our approach. And that approach was set in place by our “program” kids, the kids who maybe weren’t quite as talented but who showed up every day with something to prove. To borrow Coach Beilein’s phrase, the low maintenance players.

If culture really matters to you, pay close attention to your low maintenance players. We all fall into the trap at times of spending most of our attention on the guys who are a pain in the ass, and overlooking the guys going about their business the right way. But the guys who bring the right approach every day are quietly carrying your culture, and that should demand a lot of your attention.

If you have core values, core behaviors, a culture wall – however you go about it, then it’s important to seek out the behaviors you want and do two things – celebrate them, and reward them. It’s not enough to just point out how hard the walk-on runs sprints, or the effort one of your freshmen back-ups is giving in drills. If certain players show the values you really think helps your team win, then you have to reward him.

It’s remarkable when I look back on those RIC teams how many of them had a walk-on in thee starting lineup. The toughness and competitive edge that we really valued came from those kids who “weren’t good enough” on paper, and for us that edge translated to victories. Ultimately if your core values really matter, those players need to be rewarded, and the ultimate reward is playing time. I’m not saying they have to play a lot, but the opportunity to earn playing time has to be there. Many times the reward can be playing time in practice. If the core values they exhibit don’t translate to winning in games, and they can’t help you at all, then maybe you need to re-evaluate your core values.

Never underestimate the value of a low maintenance player. Those guys can really carry your culture and help you sustain it. Celebrate them and reward them.

Celebrate him. Reward him. If your values are important to you.

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