Wednesday, September 10, 2008

What a locker room says about a team

Ray Small, a WR for Ohio State, had some interesting observations about how the OSU and USC locker rooms differ:

"I took my visit to USC, I'm like, 'How are they successful? They're not even serious about the game.' Before the game, they're all going crazy. Me and [defensive end] Rob Rose was on the visit and I'm looking like, 'Wow.'  And then the coach said, 'You better get out of here. It's 'bout to get hectic.'  And then I come on the [Columbus] visit and before the game, it's all quiet, everybody getting taped, coaches talking, it's the total opposite."

As the LA Times points out here, Small was making a bigger point about the integrity of his school's program compared to USC, but he brings up a point about how the atmosphere of a locker room varies from school to school, and team to team. 

In my experience, the feel of a locker room can change from season to season depending on the coach, the team's roster, its veteran leadership, and their personalities and preferences. 

In a lot of ways, a locker room is like an office.   The office's environment tells you a lot about the organization's culture and its values.  The same goes for a locker room.  

Does the team value individual privacy?  Do the players prefer it to be quiet and relaxed or loud and lively? In the hours and minutes leading up to a game, is the atmosphere businesslike or more like a frat house?  Are guys serious or more relaxed?  Is it open and inclusive or more cliquish and exclusive?  Is it well-kept and organized or messy?

Of course, every player has his own way of preparing for a game, but the locker room culture certainly dominates.

Regardless of the atmopshere, I believe it's the coach's job to eliminate unnecessary distractions in the locker room (e.g., visitors and random people walking through, etc.), especially in pre-game situations.  Just as a businessperson needs to be able to close the door to their office so that they can prepare for a presentation, players need to have some privacy so that they can ready themselves for their jobs.

On the subject of coaches, many coaches have a clear vision of what the locker room should be like.  For example, when Bill Parcells took over the Cowboys, he made immediate changes to the team's locker room:

"The popular foosball, Ping-Pong, and dominoes games that had occupied the team's daily lunch hour over the years have disappeared from the team's locker room. Valley Ranch is all business, with motivational signs posted everywhere, reminding players, among other things, that: DUMB PLAYERS DO DUMB THINGS. SMART PLAYERS VERY SELDOM DO DUMB THINGS. Every Saturday, Parcells posts memos on the players' lockers. "What will you help us do to win?" read one recent delivery."

But, after years of losing, Parcells was trying to change the team's culture.  Since the team's locker room is such a central part of the club, it makes sense to start there.