Like the power of setting goals and the importance of teamwork, accountability is another important value coaches help youth athletes develop.
Teams that lack accountability rarely reach their potential and more often resemble a collection of individuals than an actual team. A group climate of unaccountability can be demotivating and provide little reason for athletes to put forth their best efforts or work cooperatively with one another.
While cultivating accountability may start with the coach, it doesn’t end there. As NBA Hall of Fame basketball player Joe Dumars says, “On good teams, coaches hold players accountable. On great teams, players hold players accountable.”
So, what can youth athletes do to foster this kind of accountability within their teams?
1. Set Their Own Rules
One way coaches can help their youth athletes feel they have ownership of their team is to let them take part in creating some of the team rules at the beginning of each season.
Not only does this allow the athletes to establish rules specific to them, they will have a more vested interest in the rules because they played a role in creating them. There are plenty of environments where kids don’t have any control of the rules, but youth sports can be an opportunity for kids to have a say.
2. Eliminate Excuses
Particularly for younger players, it’s natural to make excuses when they make mistakes, especially if teammates make them feel guilty about them. But when athletes actively work to cultivate an excuse-free atmosphere, they create a culture that rewards accomplishment and seeks to prevent or fix mistakes instead of tossing around blame.
Making it clear that mistakes are inevitable but excuses aren’t allowed or welcomed also ends up making athletes feel more comfortable when singled out by a coach or teammate. This helps them understand that critique doesn’t come from a place of pettiness or personal vendetta, but simply from a desire to help the team to improve as a whole.
3. Be On Time, Every Time
It’s one of the simplest things youth athletes can do, but also one of the most powerful: arriving on time to every practice, game, and team event. Regardless of the reason, being late to practice or games puts ‘me’ before the team and distracts and delays the team’s progress.
Athletes who make the effort to always show up on time (or early) for games and practices set the expectation for their teammates that the scheduled practice time means the time to show up and go to work.
4. Leverage Leaders
Whether they arise organically or are assigned in the form of captains, leaders will emerge over the course of a season..
Even more than coaches, these individuals have the most influence in creating an accountable team atmosphere. They can do this by setting expectations for younger athletes and taking them under their wing, calling out those who are not handling their responsibilities or abiding by team rules, and setting a positive example by following through on what is expected of them (such as memorizing the playbook or always being on time to team meetings).
Ideally, the culture of accountability grows to the point where disciplinary problems all but disappear because players have too much respect for the team to do anything that would negatively impact it, or their teammates. Keep in mind, however, that very few youth athletes know how to tactfully have a conversation with a teammate who isn’t fulfilling expectations. Equip your team leaders with the knowledge and skillset for handling these situations, while also reminding them that actual disciplinary action (such as suspension or sitting out the next game) needs to be carried out by the coach.
5. Show Self-Accountability
Of course, a team leader’s influence doesn’t have much weight if they don’t hold themselves responsible to the same rules as everyone else. A leadership position on a team doesn’t entitle a player to play by a different set of rules. .
Before any athlete on the team can hold another teammates accountable, they must first be willing to accept full responsibility for their own roles on the team and their own actions.
6. Create Accountability Outside of Sports
Teammates being accountable to one another continues long after practices and games end.
Whether it’s checking in with teammates’ offseason progress, supporting one another in activities outside of sports, or even making a public comment of praise on social media, actions like these combined with the knowledge that their behavior is being paid attention to creates a greater sense of accountability among teammates.