The Coaching & Leadership Philosophy of an Olympic Coach


I had the privilege of attending a breakfast  two weeks ago in Wellington where Hugh McCutcheon, a 45 year Kiwi whose career highlights include coaching the USA Men’s Volleyball to Olympic Gold in 2008 and USA Women’s Volleyball to Olympic Silver in 2012.

He was introduced to the breakfast attendees by Paul Cameron the CEO of Volleyball New Zealand as “just a boy from Christchurch”, but one who now has led one of the world’s largest nations to Olympic glory – Quite a feat!


The key points I took from his philosophy were:

  • The importance of an ‘aligned culture’ for any team or group to succeed
  • Culture change and culture alignment take time.
  • Culture change will generally result in some members who had not originally signed up for a new culture to “self-select” out.
  • To truly succeed in sport (and you can take this to mean life and business) you need a vicious desire to win (he felt this was often lacking in the NZ psyche).
  •  Coaches and Leaders of an organisation or team need to lead from the front. Coaches can only expect others to follow when they are prepared to do everything themselves that they expect of others.
  • A collaborative coaching style and leadership approach mixed with the desire to win supports and empowers team members to make independent decisions while working towards team goals.
  • You can have a maximum of one and a half idiots in any team at any given time.


I loved the last one. Essentially a disruptive person in a team environment cannot have another full time follower. One highly talented and skilled person who is an “idiot” in many other aspects such as comedic behaviour, dubious ethics, team player etc. can be managed when they have outstanding skills for the job as long there is no other full time idiot to join them, otherwise disruptive ‘cliques’ occur. Any other team member may be an idiot on any given day -as long as there is not more than another half time equivalent.

McCutcheon 3

Hugh made the point that culture change takes time and that can be a problem in the professional sport environment. The speed of the results required and the expectations on the team by sponsors and owners can dictate whether culture change is possible and will indeed work. In the Olympics, the four year cycle means you train and work for four years where you need to be good & performing at the top of your game for two weeks to hope to excel for the last two hours!

As in sport, business teams need to perform optimally to achieve results. To achieve this the team culture needs to be really clear, supported by all team members and aligned to the business objectives. Management and all team members need to work hard at maintaining a strong culture and be prepared to keep it alive and well through strong communication to make the results really hum.

Read the Dominion Post article about his breakfast address.

by Pru Bell

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