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What can we learn from one of the most innovative companies on the planet? Since it’s inception, Google has been known for innovation and creating environments where it’s people flourish. Chief Content Editor at Changing the Game Project, Reed Maltbie discusses the cross over from commercial to coaching environments.

Headed into the 2004 Olympic Games, the Men’s USA Basketball team was 110-2 all-time. They were 24-0 since the introduction of the 1992 “Dream Team”(NBA-era).

The team consisted of current and future NBA stars. The best of the best. The greatest players from the greatest league in the world. LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Carmelo Anthony, Allen Iverson, Tim Duncan, and others graced the roster.

These were the royalty of their time. It was a collection of the very best players placed on one team and set for another round of world dominance.

At the Olympics, they were embarrassed by Puerto Rico 92-73 and also lost to Lithuania and Argentina before they stumbled to a Bronze medal. By historical standards, it was a disaster.

How could a team so talented, selected from the world’s best league, from the country that invented basketball, not win gold?

On paper, this was another “dream team”. In reality, it was dubbed the “nightmare team”. They were the best we had, but somehow they could not function at their highest possible output. Instead of a perfect team, they were a perfect disaster. What happened?

Not in a Google search, but in some Google research. Team USA may have assembled the world’s top players on one “Dream Team” but the recipe for success calls for more than the most skilled.

Recently, Google wanted to know how to build the perfect team. They found the best and brightest researchers to cull through data and evaluate teams. They reviewed volumes of research. They also evaluated 180 Google teams through more than 200 interviews to discover the skills and traits of the best teams.

Google found 250 traits. They had a library of data collected and analyzed by sociologists, organizational psychologists, and statisticians. From this data one important revelation became clear: building the perfect team had little to do with finding the best people.

Let me repeat: building the perfect team had little to do with finding the best people.

In youth sports, we have a complex system of “selection” to choose our sports teams. We look for the best of the best and put them on one team. While we are, of course, trying to identify the best talent, what Project Aristotle teaches us is that collecting talent is not sufficient. Building great teams is not only about selecting the best people. Their research found that there are five ingredients that take talented groups of people from good to great. They are:


Every successful team is built on a foundation of trust and it can arise from doing what you said you would do on time and effectively. Great teams have dependable members. As a coach, do you deliver what you promise on time and in the way you promised? If you’re dependable, they’ll trust you and, in turn, learn from your example. As the New Zealand All Blacks would say (borrowing from Rudyard Kipling), “For the strength of the pack is the wolf and the strength of the wolf is the pack”. Players who work hard for each other, and trust and depend on each other build a formidable bond. Teach your players to depend on each other and to be dependable. Choosing players for skill and ignoring their dependability is the first step to missing the boat. All the talent in the world doesn’t matter if a player isn’t dependable and doesn’t build trust.

Structure and Clarity

Great teams implement this ingredient with as much fervor and intentionality as they would a proper training regimen. If you want to create the perfect team be vigilant about working together to set very clearly defined goals. Be adamant about making sure everyone has clearly defined roles. Take two of the NBA dynasties – the Jordan Era Chicago Bulls and the Curry Era Golden State Warriors. One thing was obvious with both – everyone had a clearly defined role in order to achieve their collective goals. Dennis Rodman was not brought to the Bulls for his scoring acumen and he knew it. In fact, when Kerr and Jordan would put in extra work he’d join them to rebound. He said rebounding them taught him each shooter’s spin, roll, and bounce. He began to “know instinctively” where a ball would go based on who shot it. That’s a player with a clear role and he was staying in his lane and fulfilling his role.


Great teams have a “why,” a greater purpose. A very clear personal significance in work can engage, empower, compel, unite, and transform a group of people into an unstoppable unit. Work with your team to create significance. Help each member find a why. Why are they there? Why do they do what they do? Why are you there? If you want to help them discover meaning, be willing to be vulnerable and share your why. People who have a why are willing to endure the suffering. They’re willing to sacrifice. No matter how young, each kid has a reason to be there and you have to know it and help them embrace it. Here’s a hint: for every kid FUN will be a significant factor in why they play. They are there to have fun, so if you keep fun as a meaning for the group they will be fully engaged.


Google wants their team members to work for something greater than themselves and to be vehement about supporting the greater good. In terms of your team, sometimes the impact has to do with the team itself as being greater than the single player. The All Blacks talk about being good ancestors and “planting trees you’ll never see”. All team members are focused on something greater than themselves. They want to extend the legacy passed to them and plant the seeds of that legacy for future generations. That’s impact. Great coaches have learned to use words like brotherhood and sisterhood to elicit this impact response. Youth coaches can also find a charity to support through an organization such as Go Play Better where they can set technical goals which trigger charity donations if achieved. There should always be a higher purpose than winning, especially in youth sports.

This is the most important, and rarest ingredient of the perfect team. Creating a place of psychological safety requires us to be willing to provide our players a place to take risks, to have a voice, to ask judgement-free questions, and safe to be vulnerable. This is elusive and it my require you to model it first. If you want to create a psychologically safe environment, the easiest way is for the adults to be vulnerable. Open up, share, and be willing to be judged by your own players. Are you willing to risk mistakes in front or your athletes and admit when they happen? Are you willing to ask “stupid” questions or admit you don’t have all the answers? Are you capable of sharing something personal with your players so they know it’s okay to be open? When I taught kindergarten, we’d do a morning circle. The rules were simple, whoever had the talking stick could speak without judgment, laughter, ridicule, etc. During the year we asked questions, we shared dreams, we discussed vulnerable issues in our lives. It was a safe space for us. If a kindergarten class can do it, you can do it with your team.

The research is pretty clear: teams and leaders that instill and cultivate these five ingredients will see a profound impact on team performance, because they raise the standards of the collective. These standards are what is known as “group norms.” This is where creating the perfect team lies and may help us understand what happened to the US Olympic team in 2004.

Group norms are traditions, behavioral standards, unspoken rules, mantras, and habits of excellence that regulate the interactions and functioning of a team. These norms are often unspoken, yet understood through observation and interaction .

Some groups, for example the New Zealand All Blacks, have clearly stated norms. They give each new member a “black book” that contains the sayings, the advice, the rules, and the accepted values of the team. Players from generations before remind the new player what makes an All Black and how an All Black behaves. They even have spoken mantras to remind teammates of these norms – Sweep the sheds, for instance.

This is a team that best exemplifies the power of group norms. They win. Year in year out. They win as a byproduct of the team culture. Though talent plays a role, the All Blacks adhere to a strict code in order to maintain the team culture. It’s not about the hardware. It’s about the software. Not coincidentally, they possess all five of the secret ingredients.

Does this translate to youth sports? You bet it does.

You might argue that Google has technology teams, not a youth sports teams. True, but team dynamics, behavioral psychology, and sociology don’t know the difference. The underlying dynamics between the participants remain constant. Human interaction is human interaction no matter where it occurs.

Secondly, you might say that Google studied teams of adults. Yes, we shouldn’t treat children like mini-adults. Behavioral dynamics of adults may have gotten a little more nuanced, but they are still based on human emotion and response. We mature in our behaviors, but the emotional responses to stimuli are still similar whether we are 8 or 88. In addition, teams are living organisms. Whether that team is a group of adults or a group of children it will develop methods of interaction and behavioral patterns. Visit any Kindergarten classroom on the first day of school and then again on the last and you’ll find a clear “culture” developed. Children are capable of team culture just as much as adults. Human interaction is human interaction no matter the age.

Finally, people may argue if great teams require five primary ingredients, why have we never heard of this? The truth is we have, but many coaches never focus on the “soft skills” of team dynamics. We focus on the “hardware of the system” – the skills, talents and tactics of teams. These five ingredients have nothing to do with hardware, but here is the kicker: the magic is NOT in the hardware. The magic of success is in the software that governs how the hardware functions. Instilling these five dynamics makes all the Xs and Os that much more powerful.

It’s our obligation to choose and to develop teams that have these five ingredients as the foundation. We have focused way too long on the hardware of our teams, and like the 2004 USA Men’s Basketball team taught us, the best hardware on the planet cannot function if it doesn’t have good software installed. Go out and put some more time into your operating software. You will quickly see a difference.

John O’Sullivan spoke to AOA members last month at the Fall Summit about ‘values’ and in particular how coaches should implement a ‘value system’ at the start of each season. Some coaches have already done this….here is another incredible leader in sport (Dr.Jim Taylor) who works exclusively with elite level racers in the USSA system.

Values in Youth Sports: Part I

December, 2017

When you think of sports, values are probably not the first thing that comes to mind. Yet, whether you’re aware of it or not, the values that you instill in your children as part of their sports experiences have an immense impact on every aspect of their athletic lives as well as their life in general in the short term and well into the future. The values you convey to your young athletes act as the lens through which they view the entirety of their sports participation. As a consequence, you should be thoughtful, deliberate, and proactive in instilling in your children the values that you believe will lead them to a fulfilling and enjoyable sports experience, a positive and healthy lifelong relationship with sports, and a successful, happy, and value-driven life.

Why are Values Important?

We often think of values as lofty ideals that have little connection to our daily lives. Yet, the values that you hold, in this case, about sports in particular and life in general, play a vital role in all aspects of your children’s athletic and personal development. You can think of values as: “a person’s principles and standards of behavior; one’s judgment of what is important…”. As such, the values that you have and those that your children embrace about their sports participation influence their priorities and goals, and act as road signs in determining the direction their athletic and personal lives take. In other words, the values that your children adopt as young athletes will dictate almost every aspect of their lives.

Read more…

As provided by partner SXS Fitness, Stefan Overgaard…

Hamstring Flexibility. It’s no secret that being flexible is an important component for anyone involved in sports BUT it generally it takes a back seat to other ‘more exciting’ areas of training such as strength and conditioning, cardio work, speed/agility and plyos, etc., etc.  It’s one of those areas that most people know they must improve but don’t prioritize it enough to ever allow themselves to realize any significant gains (tell an athlete they need to get stronger and you’ll find them in the gym working on their squats, tell them they need to be more flexible and all of a sudden they have homework to catch up on).  MAKE THE TIME to increase your flexibility and mobility – you can even do it while watching TV or catching up on all that home work.

Hamstring flexibility is generally considered the ‘bench mark’ to determine level of flexibility.  We can debate whether it’s a true overall bench mark or even the most important determinant of flexibility. EITHER WAY there are few experts that will tell you that having flexible hamstrings are not an important part of both athletic performance and helping to prevent a number of chronic injuries including lower back pains.  Here are a few examples of great hamstring stretches that you can do anywhere which will help increase hamstring flexibility. They are static stretches we’d recommend holding for 30 seconds or more.  Make sure you are taking deep breaths and feeling a ‘strong BUT comfortable’ stretching of the muscles (don’t force the stretch to the point of discomfort). Do any of these stretches either after a workout, or any time of day, just not before, or during a workout as you will relax and disengage the muscles which is counter productive to the workout.


Two sport writers to follow include John O’Sullivan (coming to the AOA Fall Education Summit Nov 3-4) and Dr. Jim Taylor who writes about Don’t for Sport Parents in this weeks newsletter. [email protected]

Some time ago, I shared with you my list of Dos for Sport Parents. In general, I much prefer to focus on the positives of behavior and, in that article, emphasized what parents can do to help their young athletes achieve their goals and have a great experience in their sport.

At the same time, the reality is that many parents don’t always do the right thing for their children (despite the best of intentions). In these cases, I’ve always found it helpful to also describe what I consider to be the wrong things to do because it creates awareness and acts as a boundary of what is healthy and appropriate behavior.

I have provided below what I believe you don’t want to do with yourself, other parents, coaches, and especially your children. Your goal? At the end of the sports season, you’ll still be in the running for Sport Parent of the Year (no such award, actually, but I could feel some of you gearing up for the ceremony) or, at a minimum, keep you and your young athletes on good terms throughout the season.


  1. Base your self-esteem and ego on your children’s success in their sport. If you place the weight of your self-worth on your children’s shoulders, you are putting a crushing weight on them that will pretty much guarantee either failure or profound unhappiness (or both). Of course, you’ll also be profoundly unhappy because your children failed to make you feel good about yourself (not their job, of course). If you don’t have other parts of your life (e.g., marriage, career, avocations) that give you good feelings and ego gratification, I have three words for you: GET A LIFE!
  2. Care too much about how your children perform. The reality is that the chances of your children becoming great athletes are statistically infinitesimal, so caring too much about results will only make you and them miserable.
  3. Lose perspective about the importance of your children’s sports participation. Another reality is that, in the grand scheme of things, sport is pretty darned unimportant. That’s not to say that it isn’t without its value. To the contrary, sport is wonderful for its fun, physical benefits, and ability to teach essential life skills. But when you lose sight of what’s important, your children don’t get any of the benefits and suffer its many costs.


  1. Make enemies of other parents. If your children stay involved in sports for years to come, you’ll be seeing the same parents every weekend for the next decade or more. Of course, you’ll come across some parents who aren’t your cup of tea and there are going to be ill feelings and conflicts along the way. But it’s just not fun to be around people with whom you don’t get along. Plus, your children will feel the vibe and it will detract from their enjoyment. My motto with other parents is: “Be kind, be accepting, be grown up!”…read the full article here>>


Submitted by AOA’s Duncan Gibson-Maclean who is enjoying Zermatt for his first time.  These daily updates are a good insight for families considering a summer ski camp in the future. AOA sent 5 coaches on this 12-day camp to oversee 26 U16 athletes from all 4 AOA Divisions.

More information on the new U16 High Performance program here>>

After a long day of travel including a couple of delays before we left the country we have all arrived safely in Zermatt. Due to our delayed flight out of Montreal our bags will not arrive until early tomorrow morning, we anticipate heading to the hill around 8:30am, for a great day of free skiing. The conditions are winter like at the top so we anticipate a full day of great skiing.

The athletes were well behaved, organized, and great in getting through all our hurdles on route to our final destination.



All of our equipment arrived this morning just before 8:00am, so athletes got a much-needed sleep in and then headed out on the snow. Every new camp is an adventure, especially when you are in a new location (country) with a different culture; it takes a bit to get familiar with the surroundings and how things work. After the day of free skiing with the coaches to get acclimated to the elevation, snow, and any new equipment we will settle into a schedule with much earlier mornings starting tomorrow.

Weather is beautiful and scenery from the top of the world is amazing.


After a late evening thunderstorm last night, we awoke to clear blue skies again this morning and headed up the mountain early with a 6:15 departure from the hotel. Athletes are learning how to manage lift/ tram and gondola lines with the European athletes.

We free skied several runs first thing and trained paneled slalom and some stubbies later in the morning. It was great to see the effort and focus from the group and everyone becoming more and more confident and comfortable. Conditions remained excellent all morning and lift lines up top were surprisingly short.

After lunch/ rest time and some tuning the group went for a walk into town to grab some souvenirs and snacks.

Groups all met together to watch video and do a tech talk about Slalom. They also read a letter from Jeff Lackie (former OSTW/CAST Coach) who now works with Mikaela Shiffrin. Jeff provided some excellent advice on training, skill development and focusing that he was happy to share with the group.

We got off to a slow start this morning with wind and weather delaying the running of the glacier tram; fortunately our athletes put the delay to good use and struck up some conversations with current Alpine Canada athletes also waiting to head up. We finally got to head up around 8:30, where we were greeted with another beautiful day on the glacier. Today the athletes went back to work on some panelled slalom, putting into practice the tips and tricks they developed with their coaches during yesterday’s video sessions.

DAY 5 & 6
We have completed our first on snow block of 5 days having had 3 days of Slalom and 2 days of GS – the last couple of days have been excellent with hard snow to start out and courses holding up extremely well.  Athletes are really working hard and making noticeable gains.  We have had the luxury of watching some amazing racers over the last few days with the German Men’s team in the lane beside us running paneled slalom and slalom, several World Cup speed athletes training on the SG track and many others free skiing and training across the various lanes.

After skiing yesterday all athletes participated in the “Terminator Challenge”, a run/ hike to a little restaurant perched high up on the mountain. The pictures really don’t do it justice, as it is quite a steep climb. The goal was to beat the coaches’ time as a standard and we had 6 athletes achieve that – with many coming quite close. It was as much about mental toughness as it was fitness.

Most went out for dinner last night and all enjoyed a sleep in this morning, which was a nice break from the 5:15 alarm. Currently athletes are touring the village on a scavenger hunt and will spend the rest of the days with some fun afternoon activities, tuning, stretching, updating their journals and reviewing video.

The weather over the next few days looks excellent so we hope that we will have some great training. Overall the group is getting along very well, has been really well behaved, and maintained a high level of focus and effort.

We are really excited to have CAST Alumni/Georgian Peaks racer Larisa Yurkiw joining us for the last 5 days.

We had an amazing day of Slalom training yesterday with conditions holding up exceptionally well through the whole session. Athletes were looking confident and working hard. There was a mechanical issue with the T Bar that takes us out of the training area so some of the kids got a snow cat or snowmobile ride instead, just adding to their experiences in the mountains.

With lifts opening 1 hour later starting today we enjoyed a little bit more sleep and headed out at 7:15am. The lifts were on hold for wind, and while we were optimistic that we would be able to get up, the resort did not open and we ended up heading back to the hotel at about 9:30.

We have had time to get all skis tuned, stretch, do some dryland, go for an incredibly scenic hike, and have some time with Larisa Yurkiw, who joined us last evening. The athletes had a chance to get some insight into Larisa’s career, training, philosophies, strategies, etc.  It is an amazing opportunity to spend some time with such a great ski racer and wonderful person.

DAY 8 & beyond…
The weather has most certainly been on our side after our 1 day off. We have had sun, no delays getting up and hard smooth conditions for most of the mornings. We have had GS sandwiched between Austrian and Swiss National teams, GS next to the Germans. Today we had a sunny and “bullet proof” freeski slalom day, which included at trip to Italy (the other part of the glacier) for snacks and a little break. We now look forward to GS tomorrow to finish off our on snow sessions.

Our time has flown by and it is hard to believe that we are now started on packing and prepping our skis for travel!  We are seeing some impressive gains with the athletes, as they have been able to benefit from the excellent conditions, terrain, visibility, and environment with so many incredible skiers and racers all together. The Italian Men’s Speed team including Peter Fill and Dominik Paris just arrived at out hotel last night so athletes are hoping for a photo op. We have also had some Austrian and German teams here; it is excellent for the athletes to watch their work ethic, organization and professionalism.

Athletes have had the chance to spend time with Larisa on and off the hill, which has been an amazing learning opportunity. She has shared many stories and provided insight into the sport from all phases of her career.

This has been a great group of athletes – they have been well behaved, polite, focused, and enthusiastic. We are sure they have made some amazing new friends that they share a common passion with and will support each other in the sport for years to come.  On Behalf of all the coaches and staff – we have really enjoyed the kids and the opportunity to spend this time with them both on the hill and through dryland, video, tuning, stretching, meetings, etc. We believe it has been an eye opener for most as an introduction to the level of high performance ski racing and training. Taking ownership and responsibility for their own career is one of the strong messages they have received; it is a very tough sport that requires a huge commitment and strong work ethic to succeed.

August 14th, 2017 (Collingwood, ON) — The new U16 High Performance program is now on snow in Zermatt, Switzerland until August 26th. A total of 26 athletes and five coaches made the journey this past Saturday lead by AOA U16 Athletic Lead Heather Metzger from Georgian Peaks Ski Club. For some athletes this is their first summer camp ever!

As a lead up to their departure Heather shared this amazing note by Jeff Lackie, a former AOA Coach. Jeff is in his 3rd year coaching Mikaela Shiffrin and previously coached the Canadian Team and before that the Ontario Team.


“Having coached every level between U14 and the World Cup, I’ve discovered a few common traits that all successful athletes posses, be that U16 Provincial champions or FIS World Cup Overall winners. With varying degrees of proficiency, they implement effective practice better than their competition.

I think it was coach Wooden who said; “skills come from struggle”. There is a lot of information around skill acquisition and most of it amounts to appropriate stress, followed by adequate rest to grow and improve. Stress + Rest = Growth. Stress has a negative connotation but in reality it’s the only thing thats ever evoked change. Don’t shy away from struggle. Embrace it!

Make this upcoming trip to Zermatt as productive as possible with ‘effective practice’. Effective practice is consistent, intensely focused, and targets on content and weaknesses that lie at the edge of your ability.

1. Focus on the task at hand. Have a clear concise plan of 1 or 2 things you’re trying to master, remain focused on those things, don’t change course midway through the training session. If it becomes difficult to remain focused, take a short break and re-focus.

2. Start out slowly or in slow motion. Gradually increase the speed you’re skiing with your level of competency. Most World Cup athletes start every day with slow deliberate drills to reinforce what they want to see in their skiing. If you can’t link slow outside ski skiing, how do you expect to do it under increased speed/forces?

3. Frequent repetitions with frequent breaks. We rarely train full length courses, better to ski 10 turns with proficiency then 35 with mixed results. Remember, practice doesn’t make perfect but it definitely makes permanent, therefore, it’s paramount you’re spending your limited training time practicing the right things.

4. Once a physical motion has been established it can be rehearsed by visualization. I’ve never met a successful athlete that didn’t WATCH A LOT OF SKI VIDEO. Find video of the best and watch it frame by frame, at slow speed and at full speed. Watch it until you can close your eyes and see it in vivid detail. It’s your target, refer to it every T-bar ride, at the top and bottom of every run. If you’re struggling to memorize it have a copy readily available on your phone or tablet. When you aren’t on snow don’t let a day go by without watching a clip or two multiple times.

Jeff Lackie
Women’s World Cup, Coach
U.S. Ski & Snowboard Association