14 April, 2016

How to build responsible athletes

How to build responsible athletes

Photo Credit: Nosha

As a coach mentor, I hear from many coaches of teams at all levels of sport. One of the biggest gripes is around athletes and players not taking responsibility. This lack of responsibility is demonstrated in a number of ways:

  • Not turning up to training or team events, even if they said they would be there;
  • Relying on others to motivate them and remind them about performance;
  • Complaining when things get too hard or don’t go their way – playing the victim card;
  • Offer poor excuses as to why they can't do something; or
  • Not willing to accept their mistakes or failures and blaming others.

As a coach, this is one of the most frustrating areas to try and develop with our players. It seems like a constant battle between you, the coach, and these players. It can also have an effect on how you relate to the rest of the team resulting in a degradation of the team culture.

Unfortunately this lack of responsibility is a result of cultural change where messages of rebellion through pop culture, a sense of entitlement portrayed by some elite athletes and the focus that life should be about having fun and not doing the things you don’t want to do, have contributed to this issue. Life and reality for the majoring of athletes, is of packing your own bags and doing a lot of unglamorous hard work, that isn’t always enjoyable. This is also a reflection of the real world the majority of us non-athletes also live in, in club land.

The reason we have adults who cannot take responsibility for their own actions is due to no one holding them accountable through their development. Within Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, the fourth level is ‘Esteem Needs’. Often we find, that those that fail to take responsibility for their actions and shift the blame to others lack self-esteem. Self-esteem is required for achievement, mastery and independence. The development of all of these qualities requires supportive people in our lives to hold us accountable and be a sounding board when we have moments of self-doubt and questioning of our abilities.

I believe that there are two vital steps to the building of self-esteem and responsibility.

  1. The development of their attitude to allow them to take responsibility. 
  2. Addressing of undesirable behaviours and holding them accountable.

Step 1: Develop the Right Attitude

Being responsible means that you take control of your actions and have the power to make choices. It means that you are accountable for the consequences of those choices you make and the actions you take.

In order to build the self-esteem to get achievement and build mastery and independence, I believe there are four areas to address.

1. Create a growth mindset: We know that learning new things takes time. We need to set ourselves realistic goals with checkpoints along the way. Help your athletes to set these realistic goals and don’t accept a ‘I can’t’ attitude. Encourage a ‘not yet’ attitude.

I can’t = a fixed mindset

Not yet = a growth mindset

2. Create ownership: We are masters of our own destiny, so let’s stop the blame game and playing the victim card. All of our lives are busy, so we need to set priorities against the personal goals we have set for ourselves. Encourage your athletes to set priorities for what they want to achieve with their time and own those decisions.

3. Hold them accountable: The moment you let an individual perform below your agreed standards, without addressing the behavior, then you have begun to lose control as a coach. Action must back up the talk of standards in order to create successful individuals and teams. Their growth as an athlete or individual depends on you being that supportive, but firm person in their life.

4. Create the incentive: Stick to your standards as a coach. So if they choose not to live up to the standards you jointly agreed, then you need to provide some consequences as a coach. This might be standing them down for a game or providing some other opportunity to prove that they want to be a part of the team or squad. This isn’t about punishment, but about learning a lesson about standards – something that is quite different.

These four parts need to be clearly communicated with your athlete. As a coach, you are a teacher and teaching is about imparting your knowledge onto your students. So make sure they understand the process and why you are doing what you are doing.

Step 2: Address the Undesirable Behaviours

Holding your athletes accountable can be difficult for coaches when you don’t know quite how to approach it. You don’t want to create a scene and you don’t want to turn the player away. If you have started to develop the right attitude with your players and they understand that you are going to hold them accountable, then this one-minute modifier will work well.

1. Name the issue: It is important that you understand and name what the actual issue is that is causing you as a coach frustration. What is it that they are not owning?

Sally, I see that you are late to training today.

By stating the issue, you have taken out the personal aspect of Sally being pouty and rude, but addressing an issue that is there in front of you both.

2. State why this behaviour causes you an issue: Give the athlete or player a ‘because’ so they can see the purpose behind you raising this with them.

When you are late to training, we lose valuable training time, because I only see you twice a week and I want you to achieve your goals.

You might also add in a statement around your agreed team values.

This is against our team values of taking personal responsibility.

3. State the behaviour you would like to see instead: This is an important step in changing the behavior as it sets the level of expectation between you and your athlete.

So we can start on time and you can be successful, you need to be here five minutes before the start of the session.

In less than one-minute, you have held your player or athlete to account against a goal or priority that you have either agreed on individually or as a team that is important.

Don't expand on the conversation at that moment, move on and let the player reflect. You might want to have a chat after training about why Sally was late to training and helping to reset some priorities and seeing what is blocking her ability to be successful.

Bringing it together

Like all things with athletes, it takes time. But first you need to have a framework in place to develop the right attitude. If you as a coach fail to provide the framework, then you will not be able to effectively hold your players’ accountable.

This model works for youth and adults alike. It is all about building responsibility, but often responsibility is linked to self-esteem. So a supportive, growth environment needs to be built between the coach and athletes.

Please feel free to contact me if you want any advice on how to implement this or to tell me a success story!

© 2019 Paul Mead