Written by John Mayer
In the year 2005 I was a part of the Pepperdine National Championship winning team. About a week after we won our championship over UCLA I got a call from the men’s national team coach, Hugh McCutcheon. He asked me if I was interested in going to Colorado Springs to train as a libero with the team. I was honored that he even considered me but after some thought I decided to stay in California and pursue my dream of competing on the AVP. For the next few years I went on lose a bunch of matches, get dumped by partners, and eventually become a “main draw player.” Hugh on the other hand went on to lead the men to a gold medal in the 2008 Olympics. As the grail knight in Indiana Jones would say, “You did not choose wisely.”
All kidding aside I was thrilled to have a chance to reconnect with Hugh and have him on our podcast to chat about team culture. He defined culture as the goals, values, and motives of a group. The easy part is to decide on what these goals and values are; the hard part is the day-to-day grind of putting your principles into action. That’s where a big part of the coach’s job comes in, as Hugh said, “coaches are in sales first”. To be great salesmen you have to not only believe in the product you are selling but you have to walk the walk and live the values that you preach. Not just on days that you feel good, but all the time. This is a consistent theme that we’ve heard often from great coaches on the podcast. If you want to implement a growth mindset with your team then be a growth mindset teacher. If you want your athletes to be ok with making mistakes on the court then be vulnerable and admit your errors and shortcomings as a coach. As Hugh said, “we’re all in it together”.
One of the other big themes on culture that Hugh shared was that it takes a long time to develop. That’s the deal when developing a team culture or when working to become your best self. He said, “you’re never done with the process.” Hugh told us about Olympians who would still be working on the mental game, reading, or some technique even on the last practice of the year. One of the beauties of the sport is as Hugh says, “No one has ever played a perfect game”. On the episode it sounded to me like Hugh took joy in knowing that the game would never be perfect instead of lamenting the fact that perfection is unattainable. Now, that sounds like a gym I’d love to compete in!
Hugh is so fun to listen to; I swear his head is filled with memorable and meaningful one-liners. I heard Seth Godin once say that he goes mining for stories so he can pull them out when needed to make a point. Hugh has clearly done the same with his maxims. You’ll have to listen to the episode to do them justice but one of my favorites was “figure out how to have a good crummy day.” In the culture Hugh has created I think it would be a lot easier to grow and learn even on the inevitable crummy days.
Big thanks to John Mayer for writing this blog’s first ever guest post! John is my volleyball nemesis and fellow Coach Your Brains Out host. He’s not on social media so don’t even bother.
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