I’ve gotten a lot of great feed back on my book, “Entitled to Nothing,” and one of the questions that comes up a lot is about core values. I didn’t go in as a head coach and list our core values and paint them on the wall of the locker room. I did know who we wanted to be and what I expected our program to look like, and I shared with my players what was important to me (how hard we compete, toughness, unselfishness…). But I didn’t have a list of core values to start.

Part of that was because I was a first-time head coach and I think approach and philosophy are always evolving. But part of it was because I wanted to focus more on behaviors than the words on the wall or the back of a shooting shirt. Effective core values translate into behaviors, and I’ve learned it’s essential to define whatever your values are in behavioral terms for your team.

Our core values evolved into core behaviors, and what we settled on was three things – compete, produce, and be a great teammate. Those were our core behaviors as a program, and what essentially would stand as our core values.

I knew when I became a head coach that I wanted us to be defined by the way we competed. That was what we could control every day. To us, it was 100% effort all of the time, without compromise. That encapsulated physical and mental toughness, effort, work ethic, commitment and all of the other related buzzwords that coaches painted on the walls. I wanted our core behaviors to be broad, so that we could emphasize all of the things that were important to us within them.

Production is actually often underrated, believe it or not. A lot of coaches like to talk about how hard their kids work and how committed they are, without translating it into production. It’s not reasonable to just say you are going to start the five hardest working players on the team. If that work doesn’t turn into production, then something is wrong. Either you are competing the wrong way or emphasizing the wrong things. Great competitors can turn what they do into production. For us, production was anything that helped our team win.

Being a great teammate is very broad, and can mean so many things. That was the point. It involves attitude, approach, selflessness, and caring about those around you. There are plenty of different ways that you can be a great teammate, and those behaviors were things our program really valued.

The challenge was to make sure to define the behaviors within the values, so they became tangible to our team. When somebody turned the ball over but sprinted back at full speed to get a deflection and stop a fast break, that was competing. We made sure to stop practice and point it out. When someone set a great screen to get his teammate open for a lay-up, that was production – along with the ability to score and rebound. We made a big deal out of it. When players picked one another up after a mistake or a bad play, that was being a great teammate. We made sure we emphasized and celebrated the behaviors that went into our core values.

Compete, produce, be a great teammate. Those values started with questions about playing time, when the players wanted to know what they had to do to get on the floor. They became the day to day core values of our program – everyone wanted to play, so they lived the behaviors.

Core values are important for any organization if you believe in them, but only in so much as how they turn into behavior. I’d start with the behavior you want, make it clear to your team and celebrate it when you see it. That behavior will define your team’s core values.

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