This week, we’ve turned our blog over to Donovan Martin of Ft. Wayne, Ind.-based Donovan Mental Performance. Donovan and his team are doing exciting things to help athletes bring their very best to the court, diamond or gridiron. We introduced Donovan in November on our Friday Wrap, and he’s addressed topics like the mental side of being a kicker and how two great teams prepare for a showdown in this space. 

For the second consecutive Sunday, the Patriots lost. In the aftermath, national sports outlets are buzzing about the team’s decline. Is the dynasty crumbling? Is the offense irreparably broken? Is Tom Brady finally done?

It’s an outsized reaction to a two-game streak. Still, it’s understandable, because since 2001 (Brady’s first year starting) the Patriots have only experienced back-to-back losses nine times. They’ve won 230 times. When you almost never lose, losing becomes news.

The Browns, on the other hand, won on Sunday, notching only their 98th win since 2001. Two years ago, they didn’t win a single game. But thanks to an influx of talent (including the acquisition of WO Odell Beckham Jr.) in the offseason, they entered 2019 with national pundits on their bandwagon and their sights set on the Super Bowl.

When you almost never win, the chance of winning becomes news. Now, after seven losses, they have a 4% chance to make the playoffs. Why do the Patriots consistently win while the Browns consistently struggle? It’s not talent; arguably, the Browns are more talented this year.

It’s culture. Poor cultures impede high performance. Strong cultures cultivate high performance.

Here’s how.

Strong cultures encourage humility: Winning teams don’t have ego issues. Ego issues represent distractions. Strong cultures don’t tolerate distractions, which means that humility is mandatory.

Brady, for example, has famously taken team-friendly contracts, prioritizing the team’s success over his immediate finances. As a whole, the Patriots are known for merging big personalities seamlessly into their team environment (think WO Randy Moss in 2007) while moving on quickly from players who don’t conform.

Humility leads to limited distractions and team success.

Strong cultures align individuals to a purpose: The Patriots are purposed to win football games. It’s why Bill Belichick never answers questions about anything other than football (and why he barely spends any time answering questions at all). It’s why the team gets accused of running up the score on bad teams (because they’re continuing to strive for improvement).

Yes, ostensibly, all teams are purposed to win. But weak cultures create contexts where players are quick to break ranks – to go for big plays, to focus on stats, etc.

As for the Browns, Beckham’s rumored to be asking opposing coaches to “come get me [out of Cleveland]” after games. Quarterback Baker Mayfield has laid the blame for Beckham’s frustration on the team’s training staff.

In team sports, alignment is crucial.

Strong cultures build leaders: Finally, in strong cultures, leaders create leaders.

The Patriots are known for making nobodies into winners despite constantly picking at the bottom of the draft. Julian Edelman was a quarterback at Kent State who was taken in the seventh round and converted to receiver. Former Patriots receiver Wes Welker went undrafted. Even former linebacker Tedy Bruschi was taken in the third round. And of course, Brady went in the sixth. Each turned into a star.

The team simply has a culture that builds people into higher performers and better leaders.

How to build strong culture: The idea isn’t to hate on the Browns or to idolize the Patriots. The truth is that every team wants to build a strong culture. It’s simply not easy to do.

But mental training can help. I work with teams to develop and refine strong cultures using proven techniques, including mantra identification, visualization, and goal-setting. These tactics help to build a culture of unity and strength that, in the long run, must be set by leadership and carried by players.

That’s why it helps to have a coach like Belichick – even if he’s lost two straight games.