How caring set a team up for success.


At the beginning of the 2003 AFL season we sat down at the St Kilda Football Club to determine the team values.

As usual the old favorites such as honesty, loyalty and trust featured prominently in our deliberations.

However, this season there was a desire to do something a little bit differently, a little bit more out of the box.

After some long discussions and much back and forth, we settled on just one…Care.

To say this was taking values into a whole new direction for an elite men’s football team would be an understatement. Whilst in these new and enlightened times the word care is not uncommon in men’s circles, 17 years ago it was more than unusual.

I still recall how odd our change room walls looked when metre high letters spelling out CARE replaced the typical football words of strength, loyalty, courage and the like. It certainly heralded a new era in change room slogans.

To say some players didn’t get it and its correlation to playing football would be an understatement. To help these players we had to break it down for them and detail exactly what we meant by Care.

To live the value of care meant:

  • Putting your teammate first.
  • Looking after the resources and facilities.
  • Treating people with respect.
  • Helping your teammate be great.
  • Having empathy.
  • Treat fans with respect and patience.

For some players the above definition was still far too vague. They had differing thoughts on what care meant and needed even further clarity.

So we broke it down even further.

  • If your teammate was going to make a bad decision, like having too many drinks, staying out too late – tap him on the shoulder and taking him home.
  • Intervene if you suspect a player is having issues or is a bit down.
  • Don’t criticize, bully or ridicule a teammate.
  • Clean up your mess and put all rubbish, tape etc in the bin.
  • Stand up for your mate on the field. Don’t let anyone push him around.
  • Put your body on the line to protect a teammate.
  • Invite a teammate to do extra sessions with you.
  • Get to know a player’s partner and family.
  • Be unselfish by giving the ball to a teammate without hesitation – no hogs!
  • Stop and sign autographs, smile and chat to members.

There were others that became evident as the year progressed. But the key to our success was breaking down the value into bite size, achievable, obvious actions that even the least caring player could follow. Without breaking the value down to this level we would’ve left too much to chance. There would’ve been as many varying definitions of care as players on our list.

Once we identified the ‘actions’ required to bring the value to life we set about reinforcing and embedding them into our culture.  The best way to do this is to reward those who do them.

Everyone wants to be rewarded by their peers and managers so detail exactly what gets rewarded and be consistent in dishing out the rewards. Eventually you will get weight of numbers on your side and the culture will shift.

I am positive that the relative success of back to back preliminary finals in 2004/5 are the direct result of living the behaviors associated with our value.

Question: would everyone at your work or team have the same ideas in terms of behaviors and your values? Do you use your values to drive your standards and behaviors? Are they just things that you did at a workshop, and have since been forgotten?

Covid Note: Most people pick up standards from actions they ‘see’ in the office. Without staff being in the office you risk your standards eroding. There is a way we can realign standards, values and accompanying clear behaviors even with staff working from home – ask us for details.

About the Author

Nathan spent 30+ years in the world of elite AFL football as a player, coach and Board member at St Kilda F.C before setting up his own consultancy specialising in leadership, high performance and resilience. Currently Nathan is also the Head Coach of Western Bulldogs AFLW team.