Building a Team Vision

“Muhammad Ali began calling himself the greatest before he ever had a real fight. ‘It’s the repetition of affirmation that leads to belief, and once that belief becomes a deep conviction, things begin to happen.’”
— James Kerr in “Legacy”

No coach disputes the need for a vision, but few take time to actually put pen to paper. Contrary to a Coaching Philosophy, your Team Vision is an external document that creates alignment and clarity across the organization. It is more than a catchy slogan that appears on a letterhead or an inspiring motto posted in a locker room. A compelling team vision clarifies not only the desired destination, but also provides the roadmap to get there. Writing it down brings it to life and is the first step in moving the vision from your head to your team’s heart.

Don’t be afraid to think, explore, and dream along the way. If you can dream it, you can build it. As a starting point, focus on the following four components:

Mission. The first component of your vision, sometimes called purpose, clarifies what you and your team are all about. Quite simply, it answers the question, “Why do we exist?” Your mission statement is a declaration of purpose and should be clearly and succinctly communicated to everyone on the team.

Desired Future. The second element of vision tells your team where you’re going. It is the picture that goes beyond the head, straight to the heart, and produces passion in your people. It is a vivid description that crystallizes what your team can achieve if it’s members commit to the mission and each other.

Defining your desired future is difficult, yet incredibly important. Give yourself the freedom to dream. This is your rallying cry, and it will invoke untapped energy for both you and your team. Spend some time in solitary thought and truly visualize your desired future. What does success look like, sound like, and feel like? Specifically, what could the team accomplish within four years given the “RIGHT” people, the “RIGHT” strategy, and “REASONABLE” resources?

Core Values. Players join your team with personal values developed in childhood and nurtured over years of personal experience. By joining a team, however, one also agrees to live and act by a new set of values—the team’s core values. Core values consist of the principles, standards, and convictions considered essential for successful members of your respected teams. They firmly bind all teammates into a fellowship dedicated to achieving a collective mission.

Clear establishment of values is an essential first step to a follow-on leadership competency — holding others accountable. Teammates don’t have to like the same music, the same activities, or the same people. They don’t even have to like each other personally. However, it is imperative that the team internalize the established core values.

Select 4–7 values and specifically define them. As an example, the Army’s seven values are listed below:

  1. Loyalty — Bear true faith and allegiance to the U.S. Constitution, the Army, your unit and other Soldiers [sic].
  2. Duty — Fulfill your obligations.
  3. Respect — Treat people as they should be treated.
  4. Selfless Service — Put the welfare of the nation, the Army, and your subordinates before your own.
  5. Honor — Live up to all the Army values.
  6. Integrity — Do what’s right, legally and morally.
  7. Personal Courage — Face fear, danger, or adversity [physical or moral].

Values are more than words on a wall. They hold businesses together. They hold armies together. They hold families together. And they will hold your team together. Coaching leaders clearly outline, teach, and model their values, and then they ruthlessly hold team members accountable.

Guiding Principles. Derived from your core values, guiding principles represent the overarching strategic tenets that describe HOW a team will act and behave as they work to fulfill the mission in pursuit of the desired future. They provide the instinctive grounding for decision making, and they support the organization’s eventual goals.

Most are familiar with Coach John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success. As part of his personal philosophy, he carried a card given to him by his father with seven written principles for life. Among the seven were:

  • Be true to yourself.
  • Help others.
  • Make friendship a fine art.
  • Make each day your masterpiece.

Obviously, Coach Wooden’s list is a bit more philosophical, but the principles expand on several key values such as include integrity and selfless service. Your guiding principles may focus on practice habits, team interaction, or work ethic to name a few.

Recently, an FBS Head Coach outlined the following Guiding Principles for his program:

  • Follow your ABCs: Have a great Attitude, Give us your Best, Be Consistent with it.
  • No Shortcuts.
  • Little Things Make Big Things Happen.
  • Treat people the way you want to be treated.

Once you have established your Team Vision, the following Keys to Implementation will help keep your team focused and allow your vision to produce the desired results.

1. Write it down. While I can’t explain why, something magical occurs when you put “pen to paper.” Whether capturing your core values, desired future, guiding principles, or eventually annual goals and action plans, writing them down is the first step in moving them from your head to your team’s heart. Attempt to summarize on a 1-page document that can be referenced quickly and distributed easily.

2. Leak your vision continually. While it may seem repetitive to you, you cannot over communicate your vision to team members and interested constituents (recruits, coaches, media, supporting staff). Leak elements of your vision at every opportunity — meetings, practice, signage, media engagements, and recruiting visits. It informs, aligns, empowers, connects, and inspires.

3. Review it consistently. Your Team Vision should be an extension of you. Study it, think on it, memorize it, and allow it to live up to its full capability. You should not need a PowerPoint to speak passionately about your vision.

4. Teach the process. Encourage and help your assistant coaches go through similar steps to develop supporting strategies and tactics. Theirs should be consistent and aligned with the Head Coach’s Vision, but uniquely crafted for their specific coaching responsibility. This creates buy-in and further develops “leaders of leaders.”

Ultimately, a team vision is far more than inspiring words on a locker room wall. Your vision is about leading and modeling. Walk it, talk it, reinforce it, and celebrate it. To learn more about building your team vision, contact us at

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