Many college and high school programs are getting back together, or have been training for the past few weeks, and one of the first things the coach will do is to establish the team’s core values. I appreciate the need to identify those core values, but even more importantly let’s discuss how crucial it is to actually live your core values. 

So how do we do that?

I think we achieve it by placing our focus on the processes we put in place and our actions as coaches.

A coach needs to make sure that processes are in place that encourage actions consistent with the team’s values. Processes that keep those core values present to all, and mechanisms that assist in holding ourselves and each other accountable.

Without these systems, our values become just words or an empty exercise to start a season. They may make you and your team feel better in the  short term, but those core values will not drive your program towards its goals. The air goes out; they are deflated.

What do I mean by “live your core values”?

Well, here’s an example.

One of my core values is “don’t gossip about others”, or more specifically, I hate it when people  talk behind someone’s back and I do not want to be a part of it. Have some honor. If you have something to say, then say it to them. 

Think about it. You might get a quick boost from gossip but the target feels that pain much deeper and much longer than you do. Five minutes of fun or fitting in with the crowd for you; hours, days or longer, for the other.

If you will say something in one room you should be able to say it in all rooms. 

There’s an example in Stephen Covey’s book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People that I would often read out loud, or distribute, to my college teams when I was a coach. In a passage Covey describes three friends talking about a fourth friend. They aren’t saying nice things. What each of these three knows is that when she leaves the room–they will probably talk about her. And, it won’t be kind.

That’s how I feel when somebody starts to denigrate another or speak negatively about someone else. My first thought is: what do you say about me when I’m not here?

Well, how can you build a team that can trust one another, when you are literally unsure you can trust one of your teammates on this basic level?

My second thought, I admit, is to begin to evaluate the veracity of what she’s saying. So now I’m judging another. What do I do with that information? Anything good?

I try to call those conversations out when they happen, or I just walk away. I never feel good about it.

Either way. It’s just a destructive thing.

More importantly, as a coach I try to establish a culture where it’s expected that we will call each other out for this behavior. Or even better, just not engage in it.

Just bringing awareness to this dynamic is very powerful with your team.

That’s just one example. But it resonates for me.


A more positive example of a core value is my belief that playing on a team is a choice not a mandate or a sacrifice. Every day you arrive at training you made the choice to be there. Behave accordingly.

In the off-season I would give my team the opportunity to take two days off for any reason. They did not need a good excuse, in fact I didn’t ask for a reason. Just let me know within twenty four hours of training that you wouldn’t be there.

I did this in part to give college students the freedom to prioritize their studies when necessary, but also to illustrate how much choice they really did have each day.

Your Values

So now it’s your turn. What are your personal core values? What do you do to make sure that they are more than just words? Do you put processes in to ensure sure you will honor them? Have accountability? 

What are your team’s or program’s core values. How do you turn them into your actions and not just words?

Remember this actually takes work on your part and the part of your team. Courage to make positive choices when it might be easier to follow the crowd. This is not just true of our players either. It’s true of us as coaches as well.

I’ve been on staffs with shit talkers too. I’ve never enjoyed it.

Establishing core values is absolutely essential. You get to choose whether you have program values that transfer from year to year or whether each year, each team edits, adds or creates them. Either way works, but neither works if it’s just performative.

Remember when you do create these, that the power of these values is that they are something we do on a daily basis not just something we say. So definitely write, discuss and enact those values, but don’t miss any opportunity to remind your team and your staff that what really matters is what we do. 

How do we live our core values?

live your core values
Live Your Core Values


On a personal level I have largely quit flying–even before a pandemic hit the world. Partly I hate to fly, but largely I just decided to help with the climate problem. We compost and recycle and reduce as much waste as possible in our home. In fact we were able to eliminate our bi-weekly trash service and replace it with a monthly run to the dump. We eat vegetarian always, and I try to be a consistent vegan. We just want to do our small, but important, part to save the planet.


Life-long learning might be the deepest core value taught to me by my parents and my family and encouraged by my coaches and the friends that are closest to me. These days as coaches we have a responsibility to educate ourselves about systemic racism and to understand the impact on the athletes and teams we coach. There are many good resources now and each of us has to be prepared to lead, listen and engage in conversations.

live your core values
live your core values
Marcia McDermott

Marcia McDermott

Former college and national team athlete who made a career coaching college, pro and international level. Now I coach the coach and am committed to coaches and leaders building high performance teams.