Five mindset keys to a championship program

How to get the most out of your players

Ryerson Rams coach Carly Clarke works to keep her players focused on the process and daily improvement rather than the long-term outcome. (All Carly Clarke photos by Alex D'Addese)

Ryerson Rams coach Carly Clarke works to keep her players focused on the process and daily improvement rather than the long-term outcome. (All Carly Clarke photos by Alex D'Addese)

— By Casey Jones

It’s no simple task to motivate a team in a short period of time. Just ask Carly Clarke, head coach of the Ryerson Rams women’s basketball team, and Mark Haggett, head coach of Dalhousie Tigers Football.

Clarke, a Halifax native, has led the Ryerson Rams basketball program since June 2012, and guided the team to their first OUA championship in 2016. That year they also went on to the U Sports final, winning silver.

Mark Haggett, head coach Dalhousie Tigers Football.

Mark Haggett, head coach Dalhousie Tigers Football.

Clarke also has national level experience, coaching the Canadian under-19 women’s national team to their first World Cup medal with a bronze medal victory over Japan this past July. The former Bishops Gator captain and three-time academic all-Canadian has over 15 years of coaching experience at several levels, making her one of the elite basketball coaches in the country.

Mark Haggett is going into his fourth year with the Dalhousie Tigers Football program and his second as head coach. Coming off an undefeated championship season in 2016, Haggett is looking for a repeat performance and says that it all starts with player attitude and mindset.

Here are some tips the two coaches we interviewed shared with us — and there’s more overlap than you think.

1. Focus on the process, not the end goal

“Our primary tactic is focused around bringing attention to the process,” Clarke says. “We track process statistics versus traditional outcome stats in practices and games.”

Both coaches say they’re focused on constant improvement every single day, rather than the outcome of a practice or game.

Ryerson Rams coach Carly Clarke (Alex D'Addese)

Ryerson Rams coach Carly Clarke (Alex D'Addese)

“The outcome goal at the end of the season or training is always in sight, but it isn’t the only thing we’re thinking about,” Clarke says.

“We track specific statistics like box-outs and getting to certain spots on the court rather than only focusing on offensively rebounding, for example.”

“Our mantra during the championship season was ‘One game at a time’ while keeping the championship in our sights,” Haggett says. “Winning the championship title was always our goal, but we never looked past our opponent that week.”

2. Make leadership everyone’s responsibility

At Ryerson, Clarke has done away with naming team captains. “We spend a lot of time working on team chemistry, connection, and leadership both in- and off-season. We try to emphasize that it’s not the responsibility of a few specific people on the team, but leadership is a skill that can be developed by all,” Clarke says.


3. Focus on core values

Both coaches emphasize the buy in to the team-first approach when motivating their teams. “When we won the championship, everyone was on the same page,” Haggett says of the 2016 season. “Our team understood our common goal, put the team before themselves, and didn’t quit until we achieved that goal.”

Some of the values the coaches share:

  • No egos or individualism; team-first attitudes only
  • Understand that you are playing for something far bigger than yourself — whether it be a school, team, or other organization.
  • Be adaptable
  • Respect your teammates, coaches, staff, and school

4. Be approachable

“Being around sports my entire life, the head coach has always been somewhat unapproachable,” says Haggett, looking back on his playing career. “For some it works, but for my program I like to be personable and know these guys well. This really helps with team atmosphere and cohesion.”

5. Stay engaged with your players — even in the off-season

With a large roster of 60 or more athletes, a challenge in football is to keep all players engaged and to follow up with so many new ones. Coach Haggett does this via player engagement through social media and maintaining contact throughout the off-season with players. Weekly workouts and field time with his athletes is another way he keeps player engaged.


“Although we may not be in the same city, we try and get the athletes to connect and grow together,” coach Clarke says of her Ryerson Rams. Her assistant coaches help with developing a few specific leadership skills — like courage, grit, and self-awareness — in the off-season to help the team be better connected.

Although football and basketball differ on the playing field, the values and mindset tips shared between these sports can be highly similar.