Want to Bet on a Super Bowl Winner? Take a Good Look at Team Culture.

As the 53rd Super Bowl sprints to kickoff, analysts, pundits and moneyballers are furiously sifting through mountains of data to determine which team–Patriots or Rams–has the winning edge.
Statistics about injuries, coaching strategies, team history, even game-day weather, are being quickly parsed and plugged into algorithms.

But there’s an X-factor in this swirl of information that is a major influencer in the outcome of the big game, one that science is only beginning to examine: Team culture.

The chemistry and cohesiveness of a team, how much its members feel valued, and how they view their role in the group, can be crucial to victory, says Beth O’Neill Maloney, Executive Director of the Positive Coaching Alliance-New England.

“A positive culture doesn’t guarantee success, but a positive culture will lead to successful experiences that frequently lead to success,” says Maloney, whose organization was founded 20 years ago by a Stanford University professor fed up with the high-pressure, often hyper-critical sports culture his son faced at school.

With the help of supporters from both the pro sports and corporate spheres, the PCA has helped thousands of school coaches nationwide create a positive team culture–and that creates better athletes, Maloney says. The PCA says its tools have helped teams win championships, and boost player retention and sportsmanship.

The growing success of positive coaching means its techniques are being noticed—and used–by many professional teams–even the NFL’s toughest, most hardened Super Bowl contenders.

“The Patriots have an incredible team culture,” Maloney says. “Some might say it’s rigid but it’s very positive. At press conferences, [head coach] Bill Belichick “doesn’t look like he’s having fun but Bill is not about the media–he’s about what’s happening inside his team.”

“It’s very clear he enjoys what he does and creates a positive culture,” says Maloney, an adamant New England fan whose organization lauds what has been described as the “Patriot Way.”

Maloney’s Super Bowl prediction is clear: “We are looking forward to beating L.A.” But her counterpart on the left coast, PCA Executive Director Alan Berkes, is having none of that. “The Rams are going to win the game,” he insists.

Despite their home-field biases, both Maloney and Berkes say this year’s Super Bowl teams share some common winning strategies:

  • Both the Patriots and Rams put the team first: “We not me” is the Rams’ mantra, while the Patriots tell players they must check their egos at the door.
  • Both don’t dwell on the past or future. They are “playing in the present-with a laser focus on the next game,” Maloney says.
  • Each team demands strict accountability from players. “Do your job” is the Patriots’ refrain, and the Rams stress that everyone must be accountable–that means coaching staff as well as players.
  • And both offer a supportive team culture that gives athletes permission to fail–and second chances. Rams head coach Sean McVay “culturally brings that attitude–creating safe spaces for athletes to be their best,” Berkes says.