The Nuts and Bolts of Accountability
I just finished Ken Dryden’s new book Game Change. If you haven’t read it you must. As always, Dryden brings great insight and research to his subject matter. I found it to be a very sad book, one of tragedy in the hockey world, but one that gives great thought on how to make the game of hockey better and safer. I am sharing thoughts on Game Change in a high school “book club” meeting next week and I look forward to hearing what teens have to say about it. I often tell people that Ken Dryden’s book The Game is the greatest hockey book ever written. I do think it means more to those of us who followed the Montreal Canadiens through the 1970’s but, it is still an exceptional book that defines what it means to play in the NHL.
It’s been a while since I have read a good “physical” book - we seem to be reading so much online these days. I do have a stack of books on the night stand and enjoyed Dryden’s book so much, mostly reading on the front porch in the early evening, that I was inspired to start another book immediately. I pulled out Geno: In Pursuit of Perfection by the University of Connecticut’s women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma. UConn has been stellar on the court since 1995 having won 11 National Championships in 24 years. Although I am only a few chapters in, one of the themes seems to be how tough Coach Auriemma is on his players, especially his top players, demanding that they be the best that they can be when they are on and off the court. What Geno wants is accountability in his players.
“Accountability” is the second of my three word takeaway from my summer hockey adventures. Last week I wrote about “risk”, and how important it is to step out of our coaching comfort zone and take some risks occasionally. But as much gain as we can make by taking risks, there is never any true success without accountability.
Accountability is a popular buzzword with regards to leadership in the business world and there is a lot of material to read on the subject. I want to boil it down to four actionable items that, as coaches, we can do to create more accountability in our players:
1) Role model accountability. If you aren’t accountable as a coach, there is no way you can expect your players to be accountable as well. Little things like being on time for team functions, making sure equipment is available, planning practice appropriately, modelling proper deportment on the bench and treating everyone at the rink with respect and kindness.
2) Have tough conversations. It’s easy to go through a season without confrontation with players but in the end, a team is always better if a coach can be honest with players - both individually and as a group - about their performance AND how to fix the problems. If a certain player’s shifts are too long? There needs to be a conversation. If a player’s effort is inconsistent? There needs to be a conversation. If a player plays his own game and not the team game? There needs to be a conversation.
3) Make accountability an “all the time” thing. Having tough conversations, holding players accountable - it can get tiring! Don’t let up. Make accountability something that happens regularly, at every practice, in every drill, on every shift, in every game. Accountability doesn’t have to be a “conversation” every time, accountability can be reminders, prods, pushes, prompts whenever is needed.
4) Hold strong players just as accountable as your weaker players. This isn’t about “playing favourites”. This is about the tendency to overlook things your top players do because they do so many other things well. Unfortunately, what happens is that you do a disservice to your top players by not insisting that they do things well, do things at top speed, play with no selfishness and model the leadership that often they demand just by being top players. It seems easier to tell your weaker players what they are doing wrong but your team suffers when you don’t tell your best players.
Yes, accountability is hard work. It takes effort. It takes awareness. It can be uncomfortable at times.
Here are the things that accountability (and a coach’s self-accountability) will foster in a team environment: honesty, respect, cohesion, teamwork, effort, responsibility, consistency, bonding and frankly, happiness. That seems worth the effort.