What is Culture?

By Eliot Clough | Posted 9/17/2019

Culture has evolved into this all-encompassing term that applies to how a football team is run from top to bottom. The ever-present radio sports talk show hosts and TV personalities love to blame coaches for not establishing a “winning culture” in their programs.

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But what is the actual definition of culture? Do we have one cemented in today’s sports-loving society?

Brian Kight, founder of dailydiscipline.com, established what culture is and what culture isn’t on USA Football’s Coach and Coordinator podcast. “Culture is not written core values. It’s not this fuzzy feeling that people have [and] culture is not your general atmosphere around your program. Culture is the shared beliefs, it’s the aligned behaviors and it’s the common experience inside your program.”

Kight continues, saying that culture is established by what you and your team does, rather than what you want them to do. “It’s the aligned behaviors that people are already engaging in. So, if you have aligned behaviors of complaining, you have a complaining culture. If you have a common experience of defensiveness, well, then you have a [defensive] culture.”

In addressing culture, the former CEO of Focus 3 said that there is one most important question. “Does it produce great execution? This is where we talk about the word versus the action,” said Kight. “The problem with culture change or people that are working on culture is that culture always promises so much, but it frequently produces so little … That’s because it tends to be words, not actions.”

Kight then elaborated on his stance that actions have a much higher value than words. “Never ever confuse an elegant phrase for a valuable action,” he started. “This is way bigger than just football. I see this on Twitter … People get all dialed up and happy and they craft these pieces on Twitter that are designed to get high retweets … This is why I drive simplicity. It’s [not] about the elegance of the phrase, that’s not your culture. It’s the value of the action. Look, if an elegant phrase creates valuable action, great. But the only thing I care about is the action because it’s the only thing that really matters.”

Kight continued the narrative of actions being greater than words. “I help coaches build culture playbooks. The purpose of that is not to provide an explanation, it’s to produce execution,” adds Kight. “I’m not happy with a good explanation. I’m not happy with something because it rhymes. I’m not happy because it got retweets. All I care about is the execution. If I can get it across to you in 10 seconds in a way that you can execute it at perfection, then I would prefer to get it across to you in 10 seconds. And sometimes the way I phrase it might help that, but most of the time it’s not going to happen like that.”

Kight hammered it home. “The phrase is not that important. What’s important is whether I can get your attention, whether it’s explained clearly, whether it has the depth. So, do not get caught up in the culture side of, ‘Wow, I’ve got this word, or I’ve got this phrase.’ Nobody cares … It’s to produce execution, not to provide explanation.”