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Hold Everyone Accountable
Greg A. Shelley, Ph.D., Colgate and Lafayette Leadership Academies

Excerpt from Dr. Shelley's new book:Coach up: 50 Rules to Build Committed, Confident, and Motivated Athletes and Teams (Publication Date - December, 2012)

"Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much."

- Helen Keller

Holding others accountable is difficult, often uncomfortable, and yet absolutely necessary. If your athletes are going to grow and develop, and your team is going to mature and progress, you will need strong coach-player and player-player accountability.

Accountability is about empowering, encouraging, and "pushing" others to accomplish a task. It is a rare person that "enjoys" being held accountable. Who wants to be told they need to gain strength, work harder, commit more, improve their attitude, or communicate more effectively?

Similarly, it is also difficult for the person holding others accountable . . . as the process of holding another person accountable often ends with that person becoming angry, offended, or feeling "singled out". In contrast, holding others accountable should conclude with everyone involved realizing their goals and expectations are within reach. All parties should have a clear understanding of where they stand in relation to any previously agreed upon individual or team goals.

Holding others accountable is about helping others reach their goals and follow through with what they initially set out to do. Below are several coach considerations for establishing individual and team accountability.


1. Clarify roles and talk "responsibility".

For most athletes, accountability starts with clearly understanding what is being asked of them and then taking responsibility for completing their role. First, a role must be made clear (role clarity). Do your athletes understand what is being asked of them? Second, a role must be accepted (role acceptance). Do your athletes accept the roles they are being asked to perform? Third, the role must be performed (role performance). Are your athletes willing to perform the roles asked of them and then . . . follow through? Fourth, responsibility must be taken for having performed the role (role responsibility). Do your athletes take responsibility for what they have or have not performed? Fifth, accountability to the role must be enforced (role accountability). Are your athletes willing to be held accountable (and also willing to hold others accountable) to performing their roles in the future? And sixth, each role must be consistently performed (role consistency). Are your athletes willing to "bring it" every single day, consistently performing their roles from practice to practice, drill to drill, and week to week? In sum, accountability is about clarifying roles and then challenging team members to take responsibility for consistently completing their individual roles.

2. Post scores, times, grade sheets, and statistics.

Whenever possible, visually display scores, times, grades, or any related statistic that might clearly communicate how an athlete is doing compared to teammates, a previously set individual goal, or an agreed upon team standard. For example, position times can be visually displayed after 40 yard test runs or 10 yard agility runs, max weight tests can be recorded and displayed for power clean, bench press, and squat lifts. Depending on the sport, individual athletes might be "skill-graded" (by position) with their grades posted (and ranked) for all teammates to see. Consider shooting percentages, first pitch strikes, serving aces, offensive possession time, steals, average field position, turnovers, shots on goal, batting average, defensive errors, or split times. Whatever the score, time, or stat . . . display it so that all team members can remain accountable to carrying out their roles and completing their goals as expected.

3. Set agreed upon time frames. It is important to set realistic and agreed upon time frames for completing tasks and accomplishing goals. Your athletes should "see" their scores, times, and grades in relation to a specified and expected time-frame for reaching their goals.

For example, volleyball athletes that run a mile before every Monday practice (Mile Monday) should see their times improving week by week. Half-way through the volleyball season, these athletes can see how their times compare to a mid-season team goal that has everyone running the mile in a specified time. The same comparison can be made later in the season as the athletes compare their mile-run times to the end-of-the-season mile run team goal. Goals can be great for directing your athletes' efforts, but goals must be specific and have clearly established time frames for when each goal is to be completed.

4. Follow up with a call, text, tweet, email, or question. A quick phone call, text message, tweet, or email can go a long way to holding your players accountable. In the off-season, when many athletes are away from campus, texting can be an efficient means for "checking up" on your athletes and assessing their workouts and training progressions. During preseason, a quick email or text to the entire team can help to reinforce your outlined practice (and team) goals and objectives. During the season, athletes can be pulled aside after practice and asked specific questions geared toward holding them accountable to improving their commitment, leadership, or attitude.

As their coach, this means following up with your players to let them know you are "watching" and that you expect them to keep improving and getting better every day. Your regular follow-ups should move them toward continued improvement. They will quickly learn that you will "check in" whenever possible.


Allow "natural consequences".
Every behavior has a consequence. As difficult as it may be, consider allowing natural consequences to be experienced. For the star football athlete that breaks the team drinking policy, they will have to experience the pain of not playing, letting their teammates down, and suffering an unexpected loss having been absent from the lineup.

As long as the consequences are made clear (at the start of the season), let the consequences of "wrong actions" be experienced. It is not easy watching a player serve a penalty, sit out a game, or miss part of a season, but it is often what is necessary to mold the long-term "team behavior" that is desired, expected, and will best serve the team in the future. Accountability is difficult but it is absolutely critical for developing team members with great unity, team identity, and a "team first" mentality.

"One of the marks of true greatness is the ability to develop greatness in others."

- J.C. McCauley

Our Championship Coaches members can click on the link below to discover 5 Ways to Teach Accountability to your athletes.

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