| Athlete Accountability

Author / John

While accountability is the key to success in any business, this is especially true with athletics.  While the sport coach controls many aspects of a team’s success, having an accountable coach is not necessary for an athlete’s success. That said, a coach’s lack of accountability does not excuse an athletes’ loss of focus or poor performance.


Beyond the coaches and teammates, few comprehend the hours dedicated to the process that leads up to the ultimate test of training, preparation and most certainly accountability: Game Day.

Game Day is the the expression of the individual’s hard work and sacrifice.  Assuming both sides have worked hard and endured similar sacrifices, success is often determined by the most accountable team.  While credit often goes to the coaching staff, a high level of accountability is still required from the athletes, especially the leaders.  Even outsiders can see the difference between the accountable teams and those that point fingers.  For the unaccountable, Game Day turns into an extremely stressful situation and becomes an expression of frustration.  The teams who own their performance, from the way they put on socks to the way communicate, appear as we would expect: dialed in, tenacious, and more often than not, having fun.


This article will approach athlete accountability in a way which empowers an athlete to own their on-field performance, and present a perspective that allows a sport coach to empathize with their work horses.

3 Pillars of Accountability

Whether it be coach to coach, coach to athlete, or athlete to athlete, these three pillars must be the base of every action, in- or off-season.

  1. Follow Through: Own the responsibilities and ensure their execution.
  2. Communicate: Clear, concise, and constructive.
  3. Attention to Detail: Focus on the process, not the outcomes. Punctuality, fundamentals in practice, and mutual accountability at all levels.

We will approach the 3 Accountability Pillars and ownership foundation from an athlete’s perspective.  Athletes rarely choose the coaching staff, and if there is no accountability above, an athlete still can impact their team and empower their performance through accountability.


Follow Through

Actions Speak

Follow through allows the athlete’s actions to speak.  In the classroom, in training, or on the field, the athlete is accountable for their personal success.  Don’t blame the algebra teacher for the ‘F’ if the student never completes their homework.  Neither should a coaching staff be blamed if the athlete never puts in time outside of practice and wastes what they do have when in-season.  Owning their grades, time management between sport and school, and even each pass, shot, or route they take in practice will set the athlete up to make big things happen.

Actions certainly do speak louder than words, and without follow through of even the little things, no one will listen come Game Day.  An athlete that takes ownership and responsibility for their actions puts clout behind their message when they do speak.  Coaches want leaders to emerge – this makes their job easier.  A common fallacy is that a ‘C’ on your chest is required to command respect among coaches and peers.  The only true requirement is accountability.  Solid actions and ownership of oneself catches the eyes of the team, and sets up the ears for effective communication.

Expectation VS Responsibility

Athlete’s must be on the ball year round, figuratively and literally.  No matter how a team finished the previous year, high expectations are placed on the athletes at the beginning of the off-season and never let up.  Many of these expectations have set dates: off-season training, pre-season conditioning test, and camp start.  Others are more unwritten responsibilities and pressures than expectations, such as ensuring others are following through with their training, regulating teammate’s ‘extra-curricular’ activities, and making time for school and work outside of training.

With so much on their plate, the off-season becomes the opportune time to dial in accountability practices and hold them to the highest standard so come in-season, habits are in place and they can focus on having fun.  A lack of accountability will destroy a locker room, and no amount of yelling, sweat, or cliches will save them; especially come Game Day when tension is highest and margin for error is zero.


Chaos with Communication

The field during game play is best described as chaos with communication and consequences.  Coaches can draw up plays, rile the team, and lay down the authority on the sideline, but once the whistle blows, all that means nothing.

Someone who thinks they’re a leader, yet has no followers, is just taking a walk.  It isn’t easy for athletes to empower the performance of the team beyond their coach’s reach.  Athletes who are leaders become responsible for their teammates’ actions, turning a group of individuals into a team.  Coaches can only communicate in the window in which they have the team.  Successful teams have leaders that attend details beyond practice and hold their teammates accountable where their coach cannot.


Sharing beers and bullshitting is easy.  Developing a bond where you can call someone out for mistake in the heat of battle and expect them to have your back the very next play is not.  Develop this relationship by taking advantage of what we call teaching moments, on and off the field.  Teaching moments focus on the details and put an emphasis on ownership.  Game and practice examples include approaching a teammate after an errant play and walking through where to improve, picking a teammate up after a coach reams them out, or staying after practice with others to put in fundamental work.  Examples off the field include building study groups, eating meals as a group, and putting in extra work in the weight room, not hazing.  Teams that communicate do great. (@Cali, write that down.)

At first, athletes may be turned off because they think another authority figure is coming after them.  Do not be deterred by this, continue to stand by the 3 Pillars.  If they stick around the team long enough, they’ll appreciate the guidance.

Attention to Detail

Players See Everything

Coaches miss a lot of external factors which end up defining the accountability of a team, but the players see everything.  Too often, little details fall through the cracks in the off- and preseason, drastically affecting Game Day performance.  “Helping those that help themselves” does not hold true for most 16-23 year olds because most are focused on helping themselves to performance inhibitors.

A true sign of leader is one helping those that are going down the wrong path.  Only so much can be done with these athletes, but completely writing them off and not calling out their accountability affects Game Day,  especially if they’re talented.  Sad but true, coaches talk big when it comes to accountability, but the best players play.  Thus, for teammates, the Terrorist rule applies: see something say something.  Constructive criticism is a necessary evil.  Approach these athletes by focusing on their Game Day performance.  Their actions, from a team-affecting perspective, are selfish. It must be communicated this way for them to see the impact.  All off-field actions, good or bad, off-season or in-season, impact Game Day.

Off-Season Accountability – The Rock Upon Which Accountability Is Built

By the time the season arrives it’s too late.  Habits are set and athletes know the boundries.  Abruptly change this, and athletes lacking individual accountability will lose what little buy in they had.  Fighting for accountability during the off-season is optimal because all the battles will have been fought by the time off-season ends.  This allows pre-season to solely focus on practice.

Empower Your Performance – Passing the Buck is Passing on Success

The Victory Foundation is built on accountability and ownership.  Accountability is optimally implemented from the top down.  Since many athletes find themselves in situations without accountability above, they need to put a stake in the ground and claim ownership of their own on-field performance.  Ownership of the 3 Pillars of Accountability and letting action speak will allow an athlete to develop into a leader through action and set the standard for teammates to follow.

It’s tough to recruit teammates to your cause in the off-season when the games are so far away and the weekend parties are so close.  Find the other leaders on the team and identify the young bucks who are there for business.  From there, require the same accountability as needed in-season; punctuality, communication, and respect.  Gradually build around this core and get the team talking about it.  A leader never forces accountability.  They expect it of those willing to make time and, most importantly, make it count on Game Day.

Related Content

YOUTUBE: Power Athlete Symposium 2019 – Raph Ruiz
PODCAST: PA Radio Episode #242 w/ Jim Davis
BLOG: Sport Coach Accountability by Tex McQuilkin
BLOG: How to Empower Uncoachable Kids by Jim Davis
EDU: Power Athlete Methodology

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John Welbourn is CEO of Power Athlete and Fuse Move. He is also creator of the online training phenomena, Johnnie WOD. He is a 9 year veteran of the NFL. John was drafted with the 97th pick in 1999 NFL Draft and went on to be a starter for the Philadelphia Eagles from 1999-2003, appearing in 3 NFC Championship games, and for starter for the Kansas City Chiefs from 2004-2007. In 2008, he played with the New England Patriots until an injury ended his season early with him retiring in 2009. Over the course of his career, John has started over 100 games and has 10 play-off appearances. He was a four year lettermen while playing football at the University of California at Berkeley. He graduated with a bachelor's degree in Rhetoric in 1998. John has worked with the MLB, NFL, NHL, Olympic athletes and Military. He travels the world lecturing on performance and nutrition for Power Athlete. You can catch up with John as his personal blog on training, food and life, Talk To Me Johnnie and at Power Athlete.


  1. Tony Fu on July 6, 2015 at 8:06 pm

    Good shit Tex. Also, love the pics minus @cali holding the rock like its a loaf of bread. 4 points of pressure young lady!

  2. DavidMck on July 7, 2015 at 12:17 pm

    I had no idea @cali was an athlete… and who’s the corn fed wearing 47, almost looks like @luke

    • Tex McQuilkin on July 8, 2015 at 8:22 am

      @Tonyfu and @train608,
      That’s how they teach you how to carry at football in Nebraska, @Cali‘s only formal football learning experience.

      That is @Luke, his momma had to bust out the scanner to get those on the line.

  3. Eric Gough on July 9, 2015 at 9:59 am

    This is a great series. As a non-sport coach (resigned my football assistant position) that works with athletes in our PE weight training classes, this is good to share with my colleagues, student/athletes & sport coaches. We need to be on the same page–the serious lack of communication I resigned from is permeating our school & needs to be remedied. Using these articles as a guide might help right the ship.

    • Tex McQuilkin on July 9, 2015 at 10:15 am

      Thank you, @EricGough
      There is not a lot of literature out there about team building and leadership development from a strength coaches perspective. Majority of the content provided by strength coaches is about program and physical development of athletes, but there is so much more to it than sets and reps!

      The job of a coach, sport or strength, is to take an athlete where they cannot take themselves. I’ve witnessed a lot of unnecessary dysfunction at all levels that has negatively affected on field performance. Calling out the bullshit for what it is and holding everyone accountable, from head coach to athlete, and preaching ownership of action is the best place to start.

      Look for more Power Coach and articles building the ‘Victory Foundation’ as we continue on the Power Athlete mission.

  4. Eric Gough on July 15, 2015 at 8:26 am

    Can use the template for accountability you’ve put in these articles? I’d like to put together a “manifesto” for our high school coaches, teachers & athletes that addresses the 3 pillars. I’ll credit you & Field Strong for the ideas, but I’ll put my spin on it as it applies to our setting.

    Things are on the verge of ugly & I need to push things to a better place.


    • Tex McQuilkin on July 15, 2015 at 11:02 am

      You are more than welcome to use the 3 Pillars. Remember, our mission is to empower, especially if someone is going to take the concepts and enrich the lives of people they’re contact with. @Luke and I put these together with ownership and action in mind, so the fact that you’re going to use them in your school shows us we are on to something. Thank you, please keep us posted on how this develops.

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