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  • Writer's pictureacoachsdiary

Circle-Up | How to Build a Championship Culture Through Circles

Updated: Jan 5, 2023


"How do you get your athletes to talk the way they do?"

"Have them Circle-Up, and they won't stop talking."


A coach once asked me this after he had a rough practice. His athletes weren't talking enough on or off the court, and he needed some tools to bring them closer together. I told him about this emerging social science being used more and more in schools called Restorative Practices, and we discussed how he could use one of its key tools, Circles, to create a championship culture and championship relationships among his team.


Restorative Practices is a mindset that puts relationships at the center of every interaction, and a system of tools that helps you build, sustain, and repair - or restore - relationships. It is also a system that can be used to teach and train behavior.


Circles, a universal symbol for community, are a key, tier 1 tool that allows you to have a conversation about anything. They are the tools we use to build and sustain relationships. The purpose of the circle is to get to know the people on your team better through an intentional series of questions. It is a simple but meaningful process where you sit or stand in a circle, ask a question that allows you to get to know your team better, and give everyone the opportunity to share, listen, and learn from and about each other.


The number one goal of a Circle is for you to learn something about them, for them to learn something about you, and for you all to learn something about each other. The result is a more engaged and connected team, and over time, and better culture.


To conduct a Circle, all you have to do is get your team in a Circle, ask a question, and give them the opportunity to answer the question in a sequential order. It sounds so simple because it is, but if you ask the right question, your athletes will have fun, they will get to know more about you, you will get to know more about them, and you will all get to know more about each other! When you start asking the right questions - fun, ice-breaker type questions - they might not want you to stop!


Here are the 4 basic steps to running a Circle:

  1. Gather your students in a circle before, during, or after class.

  2. Explain the purpose of the Circle (to get to know more about each other).

  3. Ask intentional questions that help students and teachers learn more about each other.

  4. Give everyone the opportunity to share by moving around the circle in sequential order.

The 5 reasons WHY we use Circles are:

  1. CONNECTIONS are built as everyone listens and shares.

  2. Everyone has the OPPORTUNITY to speak.

  3. The leader is just a facilitator, and everyone in the circle OWNS the circle.

  4. Everyone is EQUAL in the circle.

  5. Achievement and performance come after BELONGING. When we feel like we belong, we are happier, more hopeful, and more engaged, and we perform better.

There are several different types of Circles that we conduct. They are all facilitated pretty much the same, but done for different reasons:


1 - Check-In Circles

A quick way to connect at the beginning of a meeting, class, or practice, or at the beginning of the week.

2 - Check-Up Circles

A quick way to connect in the middle of a meeting, class, or practice, or in the middle of the week.

3 - Check-Out Circles

A quick way to connect at the end of a meeting, class, or practice, or at the end of the week.

4 - Check-Up Circles

A quick way to connect in the middle of a meeting, class, or practice, or in the middle of the week.

5 - Formal Proactive/Relationship-Building Circles

Circles that are intentionally designed to build deeper connections, community, and culture.

6 - Formal Restorative Circles

Circles that are intentionally designed to address conflict and harm by bringing together all relevant members of a group to address issues that impact the school, class, or team.


Circles are simple to facilitate. All you do is ask a question, like What is one show or movie you can watch over and over, or, What is your favorite place to eat, or, What is one place you want to visit, and you go around the Circle giving everyone the opportunity to share.


I often do this with my basketball teams. Before practices starts, I might ask them, What is one thing you want to get better at today, or, What is something good that happened to you today, or, What is one thing you are looking forward to, and I'll pass the basketball around the Circle, giving everyone the opportunity to share.


Every time I have a new teammate join the group, we Circle-Up and I ask them all to say their name, their school, and their favorite food. Then I pass the ball around and give everyone the opportunity to share. This is a symbolic way of telling everyone that they are an important part of our team and Circle, and that their voice matters.


Circles are versatile. They can be used in so many ways. I will continue to share different ways that I use Circles on the court, in the classroom, and at home with family!



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