Where Coaching Accountability Goes Wrong

Coaches love to glorify accountability. We love stories of athlete's "owning up" to their own weaknesses and failures, taking responsibility for them and then making a positive change. "If only more of my athletes were like that" we get caught thinking. 

"Accountability" may make coaches feel all warm and fuzzy in our stomachs. It may also reinforce a stereotype we have about "kids these days" and their lack of it. It's not the best way to coach. If we want to create thriving, resilient athletes, we should focus much less on accountability and far more on depersonalizing failure.

It's not about you

Funny enough, many coaches think of "accountability" as a selfless attitude. I'm about to argue that it is destructively selfish. In taking your failings and making them personal, you're actually draining the energy you need to make change.

Last week I put out a resilience test for swimmers. The test is based on explanatory style. Explanatory style, put simply, is the way that you explain events to yourself.

One aspect of optimistic people is that they tend not to attribute negative events to themselves, i.e they do not take personal "accountability" for bad events. As coaches we desperately want optimistic athletes- these are the people that will shoot high, push to the extreme and bounce back from failure.

Pessimistic people, on the other hand, tend to be very "accountable". More often than not, the negative things that happen to them are "their fault". They are ones that will "stay comfortable" in training and be haunted by failure.

Ego Protection

Again, we tend to think of those that are not "accountable" as egotistical. This is a social concept. I'm not suggesting athletes should not take blame for anything. Then you would just have a team of assholes.

A lot of "accountability", however,  is about ego protection. Coaches like to hear their athletes take responsibility for failures because it protects their ego. "It wasn't my fault," the coach can say to herself as the athlete takes the blame. 

Coaches need to model and teach optimistic explanatory style for their athletes if they expect to have optimistic athletes. One step is to drop all the ego protection around "accountability" and teach athletes to depersonalize failure so they can move on. 

Want to learn about how to make optimistic thriving athletes? Write me!