3 Rules for Building a Championship Culture - Complete Track and Field

3 Rules for Building a Championship Culture

Posted by Latif Thomas

Saying you run a ‘Championship Program’ or have developed a ‘Championship Culture’ is not the same as actually having done so.

Here are 3 rules/facts about building a championship culture in real life and not just our minds. (If there is a difference, which is debatable, but a topic for another time.)

3. Know What You’re Talking About

Multiple studies show we all tend to overestimate our abilities. If you surveyed 100 high school coaches, 99 would claim they know what they’re doing.

In real life, if there is such a thing, I’d say it’s more like 20.

I’ll be the first to admit I’m far better at Jedi Mind Tricks than I am at understanding muscle physiology. But, I’m confident I could pass a test on both.

Kids know if you know what you’re doing, especially in 2014 where there’s this thing called the Internet.

The lack of coaching standards, continuing education and professionalism in high school track and field (and youth sports in general) is staggering.

If you want to be a substitute teacher and hand out worksheets, you have to pass a background check that takes 4 months to come back. If you want to be in charge of a HS track and field team you just have to be able to get out of bed in the morning.

Some coaches believe their qualifications to coach are directly proportional to the length of time served. Or how good they were at that sport.

(As I’ve said before, give a monkey a stopwatch and 20 seasons and it will win some championships. It’s called the Law of Probability.)

You don’t build a Championship Program or culture by having a lot of pizza parties and singing Kumbaya before practice every day. And as good as you may be at being positive all the time, you’ll never beat coaches and teams who actually get certified by USATF or USTFCCCA and/or go to coaching conferences and clinics and/or buy coaching education materials.


Staying the same is falling behind. Kids can smell coaching incompetence a mile away. I get their emails. I get their parents’ emails.

You don’t win championships with regularity by ‘luck’. The only people who believe that are, well, monkeys with stopwatches.


2. Don’t Talk About it, Be About It

In quality programs, athletes will take on the personality of the coach.


Or they’ll just tolerate the coach because they have no other option. Like in my previous point, no coaches think they’re only being tolerated. I’ve worked with some and the only people they were fooling were themselves.

Ignorance is bliss, I suppose.

But, if you want to build a Championship Culture where achieving Excellence is the expectation and not the random outcome of a probability equation, you have to vibrate at that frequency on and off the track.

Coaches shouldn’t preach about confidence when they can’t look people in the eye or confront people they take issue with. Don’t talk about it, be about it.

Coaches shouldn’t preach about commitment and dedication when they make up practice on the drive in to the facility or on the way out to the track. Don’t talk about it, be about it.

Coaches shouldn’t preach about excellence when they don’t actively invest in their own coaching knowledge and education. Don’t talk about it, be about it.

There are few types of people worse than hypocrites. And your athletes know the difference.

Talk is cheap, friends.


1. Everybody Hates a Winner

If you’re going to develop a Championship Program and Culture, people are going to run their mouths about you.

You lie. You cheat. You recruit. You steal athletes. You’re overrated. You just get lucky. You hate Christmas. You caused climate change. You caused Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 to disappear.

It’s just the cost of doing business.

I’ve been posting my opinions online for 10 full years now and some of the stuff people say (always on the Internet and never directly to my face) is truly hilarious.

If you don’t have people talking trash about you, you’re not working hard enough.

Your reputation for domination hasn’t grown large enough.

And you need to scrap up on some new haters by the end of the week.

Most people don’t want you to be successful because they believe there is only so much to go around. If you, your athletes and/or your program take up 95% of the available Awesome, what’s left for them?

You forgot your uniform.

You forgot your uniform.

As coaches, we often speak of athletes who fail to perform or develop because of ‘fear of failure’ or ‘fear of success’.

Why would coaches be any different?

If you want to develop a Championship Culture, prepare for people to run their mouths about you (behind your back). Nobody talks about the team or athlete that finishes in last place.

Or second place for that matter.

So reframe trash talking as the highest of compliments.

Latif Thomas owns and operates Complete Track and Field and serves as the Co-Director of the Complete Track and Field Clinic, the largest track and field clinic in the United States. A popular speaker and presenter at some of the largest coaching clinics in the country. Over the past 15 years, he has coached more combined League, Division, All State and New England Champions in the sprints, hurdles, and jumps than he had the emotional strength to go back and try to count. Follow @latif_thomas on Twitter

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  • Joakim Dettner

    Right on Mr Thomas, right on ;-)! That’s part of being a real leader. If they don’t get frustrated with your level of knowledge, implementation skill, coaching standard and your clients results, it’s not good enough!

  • Jay Smith

    Spot on with 3 & 2; I would offer that #1 is an outcome of a championship culture rather than a rule of building one. In my experience, building the whole individual: all of the biosystems that contribute to performance, helping them to express all of the strength of character within, and helping your athletes to embrace the challenges that pain, failure, and doing the right thing can represent will yield the greatest long-term benefits and results. Develop the person at the same time you develop the athlete, for all the right reasons, and you’re on the road to a champion. Unfortunately this notion, as in #’s 2 & 3, is all too often lost on the coaches, leagues and associations charged with the care and development of our sport and the athletes in it.

  • Ryan Johnson

    I agree with the 3 rules you discussed. Too many coaches are there to collect a pay check. I can say with confidence though that I have seen many very knowledgeable coaches that were bad coaches and good trainers. They can train all the technical aspects of the sport but lack the ability to bring the many different types of people on a team together for the greater purpose of the team. I believe this to be the most important aspect of building a championship program. Get all the various personalities and egos to realize that every step they take is for a greater purpose than themselves. If a coach can’t do that they are not really a coach, they are simply a trainer helping a bunch of individuals. Obviously if the coach doesn’t have the adequate knowledge or the desire to become more knowledgeable then they will fail to build a consistently top performing program.

    • http://completespeedtraining2.com Latif Thomas

      Good point, Ryan. Training and Coaching may seem the same on the surface, but getting a group to come together for a common goal is an entirely different skill set.

  • Coach Marshall

    Man that’s a great article it’s very true you see it everywhere coaches get in this bubble if doing the same thing they did in high school and had success with. Times change and we all have to be willing to continue grow or we will be left behind.

  • kellyannart

    Latif…Nice work. You speak to excellence & articulating excellence in your work. Many more will speak to the principles you are teaching through coaching. I see athletics & academics, as a life long learning process for oneself. Practice makes perfect in everything you do. Live it, work it, be it. A life education is a life long pursuit in excellence, intrigue, beauty & truth. kellyannartsalon.com

  • frank makozy

    I used to coach at the high school level and can vouch that a lot of coaches are there only because they teach in a particular school district. Far too many AD’s want someone who is “in the building” instead of who is most qualified. I can remember an occasion early in my coaching career where we were stuck with our BAND Director teaching the javelin. He never picked one up in his life; yet we were stuck with him ; because he wanted a coaching position; in which there were few applicants. Sadly; when it comes to football or basketball; this same school district would search long and hard for the best person available !

  • Geoff Hennessy

    My HS coach was Lou Tozzi. He told me once when I started coaching “If everyone thinks you’re a nice guy, you’re probably doing a lousy job.” Never forgot that.

  • willbucks


    As usual you tell it like it is. A great reminder too. At the end of last season, I put together a dual championship, winning both the women and men division 1 titles. Our local newspaper said not one word about it. I was upset for the athletes who worked really hard to get there. I gave them the same advice you provided for #3, when you are the best others will hate you, your program etc., its a compliment.

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