The difference between elite and average environments

Having studied and observed programs at all levels, all over the country, I’m seeing one distinct difference in programs. Elite environments are built differently than average environments.

Below is a list of comparisons between an elite environment and an average environment:

Asking questions vs Giving answers

Inspire vs Push

Guide vs Drive

Empower vs Force

Acceptance vs Judgment

Catch doing good vs Catch doing bad

Motivate v demand

Relate v Dictate

Principles vs Rules

First off, there is a ton of nuance to all of this. For example…catch doing good vs catch doing bad. Do I think a coach is never supposed to point out and correct mistakes? Of course not. The point I am trying to drive home is that when you create an environment where the good is pointed out as much if not more than the bad…this is elite.

Questions vs telling. I am not saying you can’t ever tell an athlete something. But when you become a better question asker than a director, your program feels way more empowering than stifling and you actually develop them to think at a deeper level.

Two Different Ways

Here is the question that I kept asking… Why, when I talk to coaches who have built elite environments, do they focus waaaayyyyy more on inspiring, being a guide, and empowering their athletes.

Then, when I talk to or witness coaches who have built average to poor environments, they focus waaayyy more on discipline, accountability, and drive.

Do elite environments not care about discipline, accountability, and drive? Are those things missing from their program?

You better believe they care about those things…and you better believe that those attributes are seen and felt in their program.

So what gives…

*By the way…every coach wants an environment where people perform at their optimal level consistently. The elite go about it differently than the average.

Key For Elite Environments

When you tap into the heart of people, when you collaborate and give them ownership… when you inspire…people rise, take ownership, are accountable. They are disciplined. They are radically driven…from an intrinsic place.

They do this from a place of WANT to, not have to. Their buy-in is huge.

Average Environments

On the flip side…when you constantly push, when everything is dictated, when only the bad is pointed out, or when coercion is used…people’s motive is often extrinsic.

If they will follow and buy in, it is DESPITE the environment.

And when this happens consistently, at some point Newton’s Third law kicks in: For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
You push, they push back.
You demean, they lose trust.
You implement tons of rules, they look for loopholes.
You dictate everything, they don’t take ownership.

And a really bad cycle starts.

PS. This pushback is often not an obvious pushback. The most dangerous pushback looks like them saying “yes sir” or “yes ma’am” to your face then going to the dorms and burying you…to their teammates, parents, or anyone that will listen. Make no mistake, pushback happens.

All environments are a reflection of the leader. If your environment is average, you can change it…but first YOU must change.


I coach coaches to help see themselves more clearly and make the necessary changes to create an elite environment. Email me if you are interested in working together. (

I also run a group that meets every 2nd and 4th Monday night called the Tribe. We discuss topics like this…if you want more info or want to sign up…CLICK HERE!

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Travis Wyckoff

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