Brandon O'Neall, Brown University

Developing The “Elite” In Your Culture

Brandon O’Neall, SCCC, probably leads one of the most intelligent groups of student-athletes in the nation, but it doesn’t necessarily mean they can call themselves “elite.” Sure, they attend Brown University, an Ivy League institution known for graduating some of the best medical and legal minds in the country, but Brown isn’t well known for it’s prowess in a variety of sports, especially football.

O’Neall, who is head strength and conditioning coach for Brown, has a vision to change all that.


“We are trying to create a culture of being elite,” O’Neall says. “Let’s be the elite 2 percent of society. The reason they’re the top 2 percent is because they do things differently. They hold themselves to high standards, they do the stuff that other people just don’t want to do. That’s why there’s a lot of average people in the world, because they don’t want to do what the top 2 percent, the elite do.”

To create this elite culture of, O’Neall analyzed why elite people act the ways they do. He learned that individuals who make up the top 2 percent begin by establishing what he terms elite habits. Consequently, he found elite habits derive from elite actions performed consistently over time.

But how do elite actions arise?

“It starts with your thoughts, because you can control what’s in your head,” O’Neall says. “You can control how you think about something, how you react to something. You could look at something, and in your head think, ‘Oh, that sucks’ Or in your head, you could say, ‘Alright, this is an opportunity to get better.’

“Whatever you’re thinking is going to lead to your actions, whether it’s a positive action, or a negative action. What you give in a certain set, or what you don’t give, or if you show up for a workout, or you don’t show up for a workout, your thoughts lead to actions. And, actions eventually lead to habits.”

That said, if an athlete’s outlook isn’t correct, forcing him or her to take corrective actions never leads to good habits. Players forced to change certainly revert to old ways unless they first modify their attitudes. Thus, O’Neall focuses on player attitudes, teaching them to carry themselves with confidence and class, and maintain a positive outlook.

O’Neall asks his players, “How do people perceive us? Are we making eye contact, are we shaking their hands? Are we attentive, do we have an upright posture, or are we hunched over and looking like we’re tired or don’t want to do this?”

Coaches can save time and eliminate trouble spots if they prioritize player attitudes. Once a player has a winning attitude, his or her actions and habits naturally fall into place. In one instance, O’Neall helped players change their attitudes by beginning summer workouts at 5:45 am instead of 6:00 am. It’s only 15 minutes, but answering the call of duty that early can create problems with younger players.

“We are just going to do a little bit more,” O’Neall says. “A lot of people will work out at 6:00 am, but not a lot of people will work out at 5:45 am. Some people look at that 15 minutes like it’s awful. But really, it’s just 15 minutes. It’s the attitude that matters.”

Establishing an elite mentality can be the most difficult step in a process of cultural evolution, but after student-athletes buy in, a culture of elite can flourish.

This article was written by Adam Reed, managing editor of CSCCa Magazine and CSCCaMonthly.com.

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