For over two decades as a coach in college football and a few years at the high school level, I've celebrated several championships and also weathered a one-win season. These experiences have consistently reinforced one idea: peer accountability is paramount in creating a player-led program. Championship programs often credit their success to this critical component. However, as vital as this is, it's not always straightforward to instill or measure this quality.
As coaches, we often tell our athletes to be "1% Better Today," a noble mantra reflecting the spirit of constant improvement. However, operationalizing this idea can be tricky. How do we quantify this 1%? How do we effectively communicate to an athlete that they have indeed improved by this margin? Furthermore, how do we then communicate this to the team, fostering an environment of transparent and constructive comparison?
Peer accountability thrives when team members understand their personal standing and their impact on the team. A culture of accountability demands that every athlete knows whether they are living up to their potential, and whether they are indeed getting that "1% Better Today". But more than just knowing, they need to see it, to understand the measurable impact of their actions. This awareness does not cultivate competition, but camaraderie and mutual respect.
The difference between player-led teams and coach-led teams is significant. The best teams are player-led, where teammates hold each other accountable out of mutual respect. As a coach, your role evolves into nurturing this environment and guiding it to fruition. A player-led team has a unique way of pushing its members to consistently outdo themselves, which is the most effective way to achieve team success.
I have had the privilege of leading many units and teams over the years, and in that time, I shared some thoughts about what made us successful. It started with belief, but at its heart, it was all about accountability. Here are some words I've shared with my teams:
Our Promise, Our Way, and 11 as 1
Starts with a promise. It is not a promise of wins. Not a promise of championships. Not a promise of swag or status. Rather, your coaching staff is here to say, we promise work. If we promise and deliver on work, we all benefit and rise. How much and how high are to be determined, but work is the only way.
There are a lot of ways to do what we do. There are 43 defenses, 34 defenses, different blitzes, coverages, stunts, and disguises. On offense, there is a multitude of formations, personnel groups, motions, and shifts. Then there is QB run game, air raid, under center, RPO, option, etc. All of these have worked at one time or another. All of them can work again. The SINGLE difference that makes Our Way the best, is our choice to believe. Belief can be stronger than fact. When we chose to believe there is no other way we would rather do something, a clear line is drawn, and we become 11 men as 1, all on the same page. 11 as 1 can defeat any other system or approach that does not match the level of mutual commitment to Our Way.
'Our beliefs have the power to limit us or to inspire us. "Belief" is the mental acceptance that something is true even though absolute certainty may be absent. A limiting belief will keep you from stepping out and going for it. An inspiring belief will push you to go all out – to put your heart and soul into the effort. Do you really put your all into something you don’t believe in? Think about it. After you found out your parents were Santa Claus, it didn’t really matter if you were naughty or nice, did it?'
This requires two things. Making the daily choice to believe and the discipline to defend Our Way against excuses or detractors. While members of our team are learning Our Way, they will make mistakes. Mistakes cannot be excused. If we allow players to deflect mistakes with excuses, we lower our standards (even a reasonable excuse does so). Detractors - If we let bad attitudes talk negatively about Our Way, it all comes crashing down. This must be nipped immediately. Players cannot be negative, and players cannot allow negativity. This must be on that clear line. There cannot be excuses for why we allow a negative attitude.
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