The University of Louisville’s sports performance departments express their spirit of cooperation through their internal culture, and its athletes are reaping the rewards. At Louisville, a cultural work ethic isn’t something that just materialized; rather, it’s intentional.
“For us, we really try to define our own culture within sports performance,” says Jason Dierking, MSCC and assistant director of sports performance for the University of Louisville. “I don’t think we are unique in terms of integration with the other performance departments. Everybody’s trying to work together in a spirit of collaboration more or less. Within the athletic department, nutrition, sports psychology, sports medicine, sports performance, we all work together.”
That collaboration is no accident, and comes as a result of what Dierking terms “visionary leadership.”
“That’s the cornerstone of it,” he says. “It’s the most unique aspect of what we do on our staff. Tina Murray is our director of Olympic sports performance. She’s always driving new innovations, progressive ideas, big thinking, big doing and not accepting the status quo. That’s where culture starts. I think it takes a person like that in each area to really maximize this integrated model.”
Murray continually preaches a mantra of openness to change and new ideas in a spirit of collaboration. Each of Louisville’s six full-time strength coaches know the mantra and stand unified behind its ideas. The culture starts with Murray, flows through the strength coaches and permeates the rest of the department.
“We talk culture all the time,” says Dierking. “We make culture No. 1 with our staff, but that has to filter through to the athletes as well, so they are seeing a common mission, common values, very clear values. We talk about it a lot, and we are each able to tell you what those core values are. We speak a common language and we coach our athletes in similar manners. They never see one team treated one way and another team treated differently when it comes to the big picture.”
Dierking says student-athletes definitely reap the rewards.
“When they are hearing the same message from different areas and from different coaches, it’s very positive,” he says.
At the same time, Dierking says coaches have to be aware of their boundaries and avoid “mission creep,” where a coach might overstep into the expertise of another department.
“The integration aspect of what we do is so key, but we also need to let nutrition do nutrition and let sports medicine do sports medicine,” he says. “We need to be okay with letting other people do their jobs. Coaches sometimes try to control a lot, but it’s important to not get into areas where you aren’t the expert.
“Assuming that, when athletes are hearing the same message from different coaches, it is so valuable to them. This culture increases their buy-in and their belief in our systems.”
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