The Pathway: Accountability
“A player run locker room was always the ones that had the most accountability, both to themselves and to their teammates. Any successful team that I played on or coached on was a player-driven locker room.”
- Herm Edwards, head football coach, Arizona State University
By Mike Kuchar
PJ Fleck often quips about the chaos surrounding his first off-season at the helm of the University of Minnesota football program in 2016. “Only half the team showed up at the first team meeting,” he says. “There were more lawyers than there were football players.” It got to the point that first spring when graduate assistants had to line up at left tackle just to give the defense a decent look in recognition drills. And this was a major Big 10 program coming off a 9-win season. For a time, it seemed as if Coach Fleck’s ultimate desire of having a player-driven program was just a mirage, at least to outsiders. During those first two years, all operations had to be coach-led as he rushed to mature over 80% of starters that were playing for the first time (his theme in 2017 was “Rush to Maturity”). However, by the end of a 2019 campaign, which produced 11 wins, there were only two players leaving the program that off-season. The shift in culture from coach-led to player-led transpired. Now, the next phase of his player-driven culture is teaching these veterans to learn the importance of responsibility of defending the culture, which is the focus of this competency.
Responsibility as a Competency
At its core, responsibility is accountability, both individually and collectively. By definition, responsibility is the moral obligation to behave correctly toward, or in respect of, the program and the foundation of a team-first dynamic. Ideally, any player-driven culture begins with guidance from the head coach and staff. But, to complete the transformation from a coach-led to a player-driven culture, players need to begin to take ownership of the program. And the quicker players trust in the culture, the more they take ownership of it.
During the course of my research, I found there to be a difference between authoritative responsibility, when a coach is telling a player what to do and assumed responsibility, where ownership of the program develops organically. While coaches do need to create the initial vision of the program, eventually they need to turn the keys over to a particular unit or group of people to hold others accountable, letting them drive the bus. “When you give players ownership, that’s when they become problem solvers,” performance coach Fergus Connolly told us. “It’s not just about the game. It has to do with culture, organization, and self-management.” Yet understanding the struggle of bestowing too much responsibility can sometimes have devastating consequences. We’ve all been in the position as coaches when we’ve given responsibilities to players that perhaps weren’t worthy of it. We get wrapped up in the potential optimism of having our best players lead when they simply are not ready. So, when is the right timing to endow this absolute leadership? Many of the sources to this study didn’t talk of a watershed moment. In fact, they believed that like most aspects of culture, responsibility eventually fermented itself over a significant period of cause and effect using the methods detailed below. Players begin to learn their path as leaders, much as coaches do.