Success in sport is not bought, never a stroke of luck, and is seldom a flash in the pan. Teams that win, win consistently, benefiting from a strong foundation. Every year, we here of a coaches ‘system’ or ‘style’ that won them a championship at the major levels. For example, the hands off, player’s coach style of newly crowned champion Steve Kerr and the parallels to Rudy Tomjanovich, NBA champion of twenty years ago. Their approach is much different than Greg Papavich’s, which has dominated the game in the same time span.
Another example is found from Super Bowl XLIX in which very different coaching styles faced off, and victory came down to a single moment. Despite the different philosophies, approaches, and systems in place, there is a commonality between successful teams at all levels, from developmental to professional, and the different systems in place.
The intricacies of success in sports are tied to cliches that over simplify and mask the sacrifice and growth for both the individual and team. While “Winning is not a sometimes thing, it’s an all the time thing” may be painted on the walls of the weight room and preached from the top down, Joe Lewis’s, “Everybody wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die”, depicts reality for many teams. Seemingly fading fast from our society, the key component to any successful team’s ‘Victory Foundation’ is accountability.
This article will present the basic concepts of accountability for the sport coach, a shift in focus from the outcome to the process, and present how an accountable coach can build a Victory Foundation.
The Bold and The Beautiful
Accountability in the team setting cannot be summed up better than the classic story of John Wooden, Bill Walton, and a haircut. Following the 1971-72 undefeated championship season and Player of the Year award, Walton shows up the first day of practice in the fall of ‘72 with classic flow and beard that makes Goodfellow jealous.
Wooden’s clean cut rule during season had been well established for years, and the best player on the best team in the country thought he was greater than this rule and his coach, “..did not have a right to tell him how to wear his hair.”
Instead of firing back at his athlete, Coach Wooden replied, “You are right, Bill, but I do have the right to decide who will play and who won’t.” Without hesitation, Walton hopped on his bike and sprinted to barber to get it all cut off and made it back to the gym for practice.
The 3 Pillars of Accountability:
Within this story lies 3 pillars of accountability that every team needs in place:
- Follow Through: Your word is your bond, no matter if you are a coach or an athlete.
- Communicate: Clear, concise, and constructive communication is necessary from coach to coach, coach to athlete, and athlete to athlete.
- Attention to Detail: Focus needs to be on the process, not the outcomes. Punctuality, fundamentals in practice, and mutual accountability at all levels.
“Show me someone that doesn’t mind losing, and I’ll show you a loser.”
What separates the ‘good’ from the ‘great’ when implementing the 3 Pillars of Accountability is ownership. Ownership of responsibilities, roles, decisions, and outcomes takes accountability from a conversation and turns it into action because each individual involved now has skin in the game!
Sport Coach Accountability
Coaches at the high school and college levels are responsible for developing young men and women and empowering their performance on and off the field. They often lose this focus when they attempt to force accountability instead of commanding it.
Rules Are Rules
Just as Coach Wooden demonstrated above, if there are rules in place, stick to them. Hold the players accountable for their actions because it’s a slippery slope allowing athletes to slide on the small things. Discipline and consequences for an athlete or coach’s action should not be difficult decisions. Rules are rules, and allowing the top athlete or coach to not respect these will only shine poorly on the accountability of the head coach affecting future discipline actions or team buy in.
A coach must lead from the front and be willing to make every sacrifice that they ask of their players. If workouts call for a 6am wake up call, coach should be there with the team. This also means holding everyone accountable for their actions – including themselves. If a player does not follow through with their word, the most they can lose is playing time. A coach is held to a higher standard, if they do not follow through with their word, they can lose the team.
The Building Process
As discussed in How to Approach a Sport Coach, the expectations of a sport coach need to clear and built around the process, not the outcomes. What this means is the expectations cannot be wins, losses, championships, or getting individuals to the next the level. If these are a part of the conversation day-in and day-out, then this will be the things the athletes focus on. Fundamentals will be an afterthought, and as a result, so will winning. While these are great long term goals, they are outcomes of well communicated expectations and accountable athletes and coaches.
Leave An Open Door
I firmly believe in an open door policy for a sport coach. The act of effective communication is built on a connection between the coach and the athlete. If there is an issue with a coach’s policies, actions, or approach to an issue, the problems will only be exacerbated if the coach is not willing to hear what their staff or athletes have to say. This is a true act of accountability because the coach is showing they value the team’s input and open to constructive criticism. The, ‘Is there a better way?’ policy will take a team further than the, ‘My way or the highway’ policy.
Attention to Detail
“It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.”
A sign of an experienced Power Coach is one that values values. We notice this trend as many professional teams are avoiding the talented but troubled draft picks and picking up high character, locker room players. At the developmental level, a coach needs to hold their athletes accountable for details that will carry over to their lives outside the field. Punctuality is invaluable, as well as respect for peers, whether you like them or not.
Accountability is ownership of the little things. If a coach is able to switch the thinking and talking of a team from wins and losses to reps and plays, this will set up one of the most valuable aspects of a successful team: mutual accountability. Players need to be responsible for own their actions, but without direction they will quickly fall victim to the blame game.
Mutual accountability begins at an individual level, and blossoms into a team wide brother/sisterhood if the proper seeds are planted; primarily, an accountable coaching staff. A coach can begin to build this mind set by showing up early, prepared, and keying in on little details daily. Every pre- and post-practice team discussion needs to not only include these details, but also critique, correct, and challenge the accountability of the leaders of the team.
Empower Your Performance – Motion Creates Emotion!
The Victory Foundation is not built overnight, it a process that begins with accountability. The 3 Pillars were each chosen to represent action and ownership, motion creates emotion! A sport coach is in the best position to put these pillars in place for a team, lay the foundation, and change a culture. Begin with laying ground rules and stating clear expectations. From here the focus needs to switch to doing the little things right so the big things happen. Show up on time, take your vitamins and you will never go wrong.
This series will continue to develop the 3 Pillars, view accountability at the athlete’s level, and how team leaders can begin to empower their peers where coaches cannot. Please let us know of any barriers or road blocks you have experienced as coaches or athletes that have affected the accountability of your teams.
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.
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