As we approach the midway point of the season, you’re probably starting to figure some things out about your team. Are you “contenders” or “pretenders”?

For the focus of this post, let’s assume your team is a contender. How do you sustain excellence and carry your success through the remainder of your schedule?

I have the honor of being on a staff with one of the winningest coaches in NCAA lacrosse history, as well as a coach who won 10 consecutive NCAA championships. It’s pretty safe to say that these two coaches know a thing or two about building a culture of success and maintaining it.

So, what are the secrets? Here are three keys that have translated to on-field success for our team.

1. Always Compete

Nearly everything we do is competitive. We started the season with a depth chart posted in the locker room for everyone to see. Players knew from day one of the season where they ranked at their position. If any players have questions about their ranking, the coach's door is always open, and they can come in and have a real conversation about why we see them where we do.

These are not easy conversations to have, but the meaningful conversations with players who aren't where they think they should be have led to those players working harder to move up and challenge for a spot. Players even have to compete for a spot on the bus to away games using this concept.

We also utilize competition during practice. We script situations. For example, in scrimmages, White (our first team) is down by three goals to Blue (our second team) with four minutes left in the game. For White to win, they must score four goals and for Blue to win, they must maintain a three-goal-or-more lead. We like this format because it forces both teams to compete for the win. Our first team must play fast and smart, while our second team can't stall and just protect their lead.

Even conditioning has an element of competition. On the rare occasion that we run, the team will set time limits. For example, let's say we're going to have them run three 300-yard shuttles. They might have 55 seconds to complete the first shuttle, 58 seconds to complete the second, and 63 seconds to complete the third. If the whole team makes it in under time for each shuttle, there can be extra free scrimmage time the following day as a reward. If the whole team does not make time, then they may have an extra shuttle added on. The team is competing against the clock and the slower players in this situation. They learn how to push themselves and encourage their teammates to perform.

2. Prepare for Every Situation

We strive to teach our team what to do in every possible situation. Don't confuse this with scripting or dictating what they do. Rather, we expose them to situations and practice the options so they can make better decisions come game day.

Here's an example. In the NCAA, there is a 30-second shot clock put on when the officials deem the offense to be stalling. So we practice it. We put 30 seconds on the clock and sometimes we say we need a goal, other times we say we're up by a goal with two minutes to play. We don't necessarily have a play for scoring when a timer is put on, but our players learn to remain composed and run through our offense under this pressure. Then when the time gets short (under eight seconds), they know what to do so we can be prepared for the ball to go the other direction and possibly get it back with a successful ride.

It's also important to practice what I call if/then logic and decision making. For example, if we win a face-off backwards, then we will _____________. (Sorry, but I won't give away our secret strategy for all these situations just yet. Maybe in June!) Take some time and think of the odd situations where your team can gain an advantage. The sum of many of the little situations can lead to extra opportunities on game day.

3. Practice Divine Discontent

There are many different definitions for this, but we see it as “We’re doing pretty well, but we’re not satisfied with where we are yet,” and we challenge our team to approach every opportunity the same way. We can appreciate and be thankful for what we have accomplished, while at the same time believing that we can still achieve more if we stretch ourselves to be greater than we currently are.

Commander Rorke T. Denver, a former All-American defenseman at Syracuse, 13-year Navy SEAL and current author and actor, touched on this concept during his keynote presentation at the 2015 US Lacrosse Convention in Baltimore. Here's what the Commander Denver had to say about constant improvement in an elite environment.

This is slipperier than a New England country road in January to navigate. Push too hard and your team will feel like they can never live up to your expectations. Don’t push enough and it just becomes one of those lame motivational posters. The trick is to get the players to expect more of themselves. There’s no one-size-fits-all strategy for implementing this concept. It's about knowing how your team will react to being pushed. Once you’ve figured that out balance, your team is on the road to success.

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