LeadershipTeam Culture

(This weeks blog is written by Todd Beane, Founder of TOVO International. Todd is the co-founder of Cruyff Football and Senior Advisor to the Cruyff Institute, and has consulted for FC Barcelona, Ajax Amsterdam, Chivas Guadalajara, Melbourne City FC, Mamelodi Sundowns, Austrian Football Federation)

“We pretty much let the coaches decide what to do with the players,” a youth club director recently told me.

“Do you have any guidelines?” I asked.

“Well, the administration sells the uniforms and manages the money collected from club fees.”

“Why?” I continued to probe.


“That’s what all the clubs are doing. That’s how it works now. Todd, you have been out of the country a long time. Things have changed.”

Fair enough. I have been living in Barcelona for almost fourteen years now and I hope many things have changed since I was training on the frosty fields of New England. Change is good. Innovation brings improvement. Progress is positive.

But in the end, is there not something that remains constant in a sea of variables? Is there not a foundation that should ground us as we construct our schools and sports organizations?

Don’t coaches and athletes get confused and frustrated when they do not know what their club teaches, what their team values, and what direction they are supposed to be heading?

Don’t parents feel frustrated when an organization  that they are entrusting their child with is not clear on the need to provide positive role models, respect and encouragement for their child, and clear, consistent communication and reinforcement of core values?

As you might imagine from my leading questions, I believe there is. When I go to sport clubs from the highest level to the most humble, I conduct a simple DNA test.

I ask, “What is the DNA of your organization?”

Silence. Again.

Surprisingly enough, nobody ever asks, “Do you mean the Deoxyribonucleic acid, the molecule that carries most of the genetic instructions used in the development and functioning of all known living organisms?”

If they did, I would answer, “Yes, sort of.”

Todd Beane with Johan Cruyff

Todd Beane with Johan Cruyff

What I am really looking for are the most sacred elements of the enterprise that we Do Not Alter (DNA). Yes, those elements that give instructions to our functioning organization. Yes, the very elements that bring our club to life. The things that every coach, athlete, parent and board member know that we stand for, the things that define who we are when we win, when we lose, on and off the field.

What are our values, and what is our purpose?

How many clubs actually ask the tough questions? How many clubs conduct a simple DNA test to check if all players, coaches, parents and administrators share the ideals of the organization? Very few in my experience. Most are so busy executing that they leave no time to examine. Many are too busy running to reflect.

Some youth clubs are recreational. Some are elite training centers; some are professional club academies. Some are a handful of parents doing their best. To me that is only as important as the surface difference between humans. Some of us are tall, some short, some with blue eyes and some with brown. But 99% of our genes we share, no?

What is most intriguing to explore is if our club understands itself. Does our sport organization know what it does not alter? Do we know to what it commits wholeheartedly? Do we have a DNA woven into a double helix of values and purpose?

When organizations conduct a simple DNA test, wonderfully troubling things unfold.

People become confused.

Coaches either speak up or shuttle off.

Parents chime in or check out.

All chaos breaks loose before stability is restored.

And that chaos guides us to clarity.

The discussions that are fostered lead us to determine not only what we want to be, but also to the inevitable next question of “how.” Priorities are defined and actions steps are taken.

The Brutal Reality of Change

Once the DNA test is complete, some will find their way out of this rejuvenated organism. In every change process someone goes. In my own life I have witnessed people voluntarily leave. I have seen people fired. I have made the decision to leave myself as I was no longer aligned with ambitions of the organization for which I worked. As this article points out, we can “create a culture that rewards the 95% who are willing to give, and weeds out the 5% who are trying to get.”

This change is troubling at first and liberating soon after. But, those that remain on board are made of the DNA strands that will lead the club forward.

We will know “why” we are there. And furthermore, we will realize that the process of “how’ is an arduous road, but that it is paved with clear intentions.

The club will provide us all with the clarity we need. And with the clarity we will have in place:

  • Core values that guide our actions
  • Clear expectations for our players
  • Standards of education and behavior for coaches
  • Standards of education and behavior for parents

These standards will also give us permission to say to those who do not agree or to those unwilling to buy in:

“Maybe this is not for you.”

It is pretty powerful to have the confidence, vision and commitment as an organization to tell a coach, an athlete, or a family “We will miss you.” But you cannot until you know what those things are. Then the hard work begins, as the real value comes from aligning everyone who stays. These are some critical questions we must ask ourselves to begin:

10 DNA Questions to Get Us Started

  1. Why does our organization exist?
  2. What are we teaching?
  3. How do we define winning?
  4. How do we define losing?
  5. What are the characteristics of the ideal player?
  6. The ideal coach?
  7. The ideal parent?
  8. If the organization could accomplish one thing, what would it be?
  9. What do we want for our children?
  10. How do we have fun here?

What inevitably results is some form of a commitment to talent development. I have never conducted this DNA test to watch coaches and parents set anything less than the most ambitious and positive goals. No player sets his sights on boredom and misery. No parent hopes to limit her child’s potential and provoke a loathing for the sport. No coach ever sets her sights on undermining the players’ development through psychological abuse. Nobody ever sets out to lose every match. Nobody ever wants an organization of distrust, misery and pain.

Imagine that.

As many times as I have done this, we tend to share 99% of our core code. We set ambitious goals to respect children, to maximize their potential, and to support holistic development. Our players want to have fun, compete and make friends. Our parents want their children to grow in a supportive environment, one that is an extension of the things they value at home. Our coaches want to watch children reach their full potential. We all want to be respected and valued. While we do not set out to lose, we hope that we will do so with dignity and that we will win with humility.

The list of noble ambitions will inspire you.

Our ideals will be courageous but attainable. We will take remarkable steps that lead us to understand ourselves like never before. We will encode and our kids with competence, confidence, and character.

Other clubs will notice how we play the game. They will see our children compete with joy and enthusiasm. They will comment on how beloved our coaches are, and on how respectful our parents are. Others will not know how we did it, but they will want their club to be more like ours.

And when they ask we will tell them, “We took the time to discover our DNA. And that has made all the difference.”

Do you know what your club’s DNA is? Your team? Do you have written and defined core values that are rewarded week after week? Please share your story below on how they have transformed your club/team. And if you do not, and want some help, click here email us and learn how.


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