Have you ever imagined what life would be like if everyone held themselves to the highest level of accountability? Children would get their homework completed without repeated questions from their parents and those in the workplace would show up to work on time and complete their duties. I have to imagine a world of efficiency and independence. So, let’s ask ourselves one simple question: How can we teach and coach accountability to our young athletes?   Since 75% of Americans play sports, it’s fair to assume the impact made in youth sports would have a tremendous impact on our working culture.

But what does it mean to be accountable?  It involves a sense of ownership for one’s actions and inactions.  Being accountable includes answering for one’s responsibilities and following through on tasks, goals and commitments, as well as acknowledging when something has been missed or not completed.  Why is it important?  The workplace has always expected accountability from its employees and its leaders.  A business risks failure by not properly managing its operations or meeting its obligations, and that begins with the accountability of workers investing in the organization’s success.  For an individual to be most productive or for businesses to thrive, those entering the workforce should already understand the concept of accountability and actively incorporate it into his or her work ethic.  Learning and practicing accountability begins at home and through activities such as sports.

One of the requirements needed to help move this process forward would be the willingness of parents to change. Children learn and observe behavior and while we might not see them watching every thing that a parent does, they surely are. Accountability is as much of what we do as what we say. Completing tasks is a necessary aspect of growing up and will set the foundation and tone for a young person’s drive. Some parents expect accountability from their children in the tasks they are given; yet these same parents will not follow through on their own responsibilities or commitments, which creates a mixed message. Without accountability, we are setting children up for challenges that will be more difficult to change with age.  If parents fail to model and teach their children accountability, they are disadvantaging them to enter the professional realm, where excuses, finger pointing or lack of ownership are characteristics of struggle and failure.

How many of you have seen a parent hold their child accountable for what they’ve not done and have appreciated the effort that parent put in to coaching that young person towards improvement? I’m sure many of you have. At the same time, how many of you have seen the inverse of that and thought, “Oh my goodness, if that was my child I wouldn’t do that!” The impact of teaching accountability is far greater in youth sports since the number of young people playing sports is greater than those that are not. We can make a difference if we learn not only what to do, but how to do.

We are not doing our young athletes a good service by allowing them to conduct themselves in a way that is going to impair them in the future. At some point, the sports will stop but they will continue in their lives. Do we want these same young people to be turned away from jobs or consistently lose jobs because they weren’t taught how to be accountable? We look at it as soft line excuses today but the older they get, it becomes more apparent.  Sportsmanship, commitment and responsibility are important components of accountability.

I’d like to propose a simple solution to help set the foundation. First, let’s educate our young athletes. I’ve blogged about Discipline and Action and the importance of setting the tone of how we behave. We should educate them on what it means to be held accountable by others and what it means to hold oneself accountable. Second, we create a process in which we will oversee and remind an athlete, as it will take a minimum of 21 consecutive days doing the same habit in order to begin seeing change and establishing a pattern of behavior. Third and most importantly, there should be recognition of the changing behavior and reinforcement of what is being recognized. Positive reinforcement with enthusiasm shows appreciation and will motivate the athlete to help him or her to continue down the path.

While this will not be an overnight fix, it will undoubtedly show those around our young athletes their desire to be a better person, athlete, child, student and teammate; now and in the future. Accountability, paired with Discipline and Action, begins the foundation of the DAARI, followed by Responsibility and Integrity, to best prepare a young athlete for leadership and success both in sports and their adult life.