Why your program’s identity is so important

Here’s the situation.

You have a great program but you aren’t getting the players that you want. You know what it takes to have success but you need certain types of players to get there. Without them, you just keep staying in the same place.

You aren’t competing at the level you want. Your reputation as a winning program is not improving. Your coaches are getting frustrated. The cycle continues.

And what makes it even worse is that you watch the perfect players go play for another team, knowing they would have a better experience with you!

We often see players and families make these choices because they really don’t know any better. They look at two choices, you vs. another option, and the choices seem similar.

At some point they are asking the crucial question: Why should I pick this team?

If they cannot quickly answer that question, then it comes down to luck. They pick one team and hope for the best.

Establishing an identity

The random team selection usually happens when a team is not effectively communicating their identity. Without a clear message of who you are and what you stand for, players and families will be left to guess to what you stand for. They can’t find a good answer to their WHY question. This is a real problem for you (and them).

The team with the clear identity has an advantage.

If you aren’t defining your identity for them, players and families will do it for you. And it may not be what you want. You may become known as the unorganized team, the cult team, the win at all costs team, etc.

If you aren’t being proactive, your identity will be defined by others, even if it is inaccurate.

The power of identity

Recently, Select Basketball finished running one of our tryouts for some younger teams. Following the tryout, a dad pulled me aside. Having been in this business for over 15 years, I knew these tryout conversations go one of two ways.

“I have to tell you; you guys did such a great job with this tryout. It was very organized and the coaches always stayed so positive. We were at a tryout last week and the kids were just standing around and the coaches continually broke the kids down the whole time. It was frustrating.”

Clearly understanding and communicating your program’s identity is crucial to attract the players you want (image via letsplaythegame.co.uk)

These comments told me two things. First, it showed that our efforts to be the most organized and well coached program available were paying off (part of our identity). Second, it showed that this other tryout, whether they liked it or not, was having its identity defined for it by parents.

My guess is that this other tryout was being run by people with good intentions. But those intentions were overshadowed by a message they probably didn’t want. When this happens, the team with the clear identity has an advantage.

If you aren’t defining your identity for them, players and families will do it for you. And it may not be what you want.

For Select Basketball, our emphasis is on providing better opportunities for everyone in the program. We achieve that through offering the best coaching and being incredibly organized. Getting the best coaches requires a lot of work networking and treating the coaches better than they have ever been treated. Being organized is not rocket science but it does require hours and hours of planning, execution and follow up. Finding and building our identity has been a lot of work but the results have been worth it.

How to find and / or define your identity

The reality is that anyone can find and build their identity. It just needs to be genuine and there needs to be a strong commitment to make it happen. To be clear, identity is not your logo. Identity is what people think of when they think of you.

Use these five steps to get started. They take about 30 minutes to complete. Not only will this shed light on how you are doing with your identity, it can be fun to break things down.

The five step process

Step 1 – Identify what your program stands for. Or what you want it to stand for. Condense this down to 3-6 words.

Step 2 – Identify every competitor you have and note what their brand or name stands for or represents. Condense that description to 3-6 words. Your competition may be more than other teams. It could also be other sports, family vacations, injuries, etc. Try Googling your industry with terms you think players would use and see what comes up. You may find some unusual sources of competition you didn’t expect.

Step 3 – How do you and your competitors measure up? If you are the same as everyone else, you probably have an identity problem. If you are clearly different, but you still aren’t standing out, you have a marketing problem.

Step 4 – Do your actions match what you want to stand for? List three or more ways that your actions are supporting what you stand for. Can you think of any way that your actions are working against what you stand for?

Step 5 – List three or more ways that you are communicating what you stand for both internally among your own staff and participants and externally to your potential players. Are you doing enough?

Below I’ve included what I produced. Yours doesn’t need to be public but sometimes seeing an example can help.

Your program will be compared to others. You are just one option. But with a clear identity and the ability to share your program’s message, you will be able to answer the big question: Why should I pick this team?

Select Basketball Example

  1. Select Basketball
    • Tries to get top coaching from up and coming college and high school coaches, organized, Idaho and Montana, pretty structured in operations and expectations, designed to give new opportunities to players and coaches through a first class college level experience, 20 years of operations, professional
    • Great coaching, organized, college level, experienced
  2. Competition
    1. Team 1
      • Parent coached, cult like following, players expected to give up everything else, workout 4-5 times per week, boys and girls, travel all the time, not a afraid to say bad things about other programs
      • Parent coached, cultish following, travel, brash
    2. Team 2
      • Leans to a specific faith, parent coached, locally focused, have a facility, boys and girls, pretty organized
      • Parent coached, organized, faith favored
    3. Team 3
      • Parent coached, boys and girls, kind of have an older team program and sell that an NBA player will be coaching which may be misleading, do events with the entire program, easy going
      • Parent coached, program events, easy going
    4. Team 4
      • Pretty consistent coaching, pretty organized, strong history, based several hours away but we compete for players in middle ground
      • Good coaching, organized, strong history
    5. Team 5
      • Will try and steal any player, feels very slimy, tell players anything they want to hear, sponsored by a shoe company though the shoe company changes, has done well in competition the past 3-4 years
      • Slimy, sponsored, arrogant, win at all costs
    6. Spring sports
      • Playing for their school, may be a player’s other passion, can be difficult to commit to both us and spring sport, can conflict with our spring program but we support multisport players so we try to work with them
      • School pride, diversity, time commitment
  3. How does Select compare to other programs?
    • The coaching stands apart from most others
    • We are as or more organized than other programs
    • We offer more players more opportunities
    • Our history shows that we have a lot of experience
    • We are probably more rigid and less compromising than others
  4. Actions we take to support our identity
    • We hire coaches with college level experience that are not parents
    • Our systems have evolved and improved over the last 20 years that have made us more efficient and organized
    • We have expanded to Montana to allow more players to be eligible to participate
  5.  Communications
    • Website – we consistently update it with information on how to get involved, who is coaching, dates and times, etc. There are also free resources to help anyone find teams, learn about recruiting, and more.
    • Email – we consistently send updates to our players and families about our travel, tournaments, workouts and more. We also have a newsletter, The Press Break, that anyone can subscribe to if they want to be up to date.
    • Social media – in addition to posting our own content, we curate content from others that supports the importance of getting opportunities to learn and develop.
    • Coaches – in constant communication with their players through text messaging. They communicate about development, motivation and logistics in addition to team building.


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