THE world of competitive sport is hinged upon many factors: athlete participation, coach and technical staff involvement, financial investment, progressive and forward-thinking sport administration etc.

However, one core element defines competitive sport and that is the concept of winning and losing. Whether you participate in an individual or team sport, compete at the international elite level or Sunday afternoon youth tournaments, someone will always outperform the other and win.

It is during these times of loss that we test the resilience and sport culture of any athlete or team. For coaches working with individual athletes, it can sometimes be a more “obvious” task to identify what went wrong during a poor performance given that there was only one performer and hold the athlete or themselves as coaches accountable, and state how they will learn and improve next time. However, for coaches within team environments it can often be a greater challenge to foster an accountability culture within the team and easier to allow the roots of an excuse culture to take hold given the number of athletes that contribute to one performance.

What do I mean by accountability culture vs excuse culture? Accountability culture refers to the willingness of athletes within a team environment to take ownership of their role and execution or lack thereof during any given performance. An excuse culture relinquishes responsibility and points fingers, a habit that we can easily develop and practise. At some time or another, we as human beings relinquish responsibility when a poor outcome is achieved. An example of such among athletes might be, “I’m late because my alarm didn’t go off,” or “mummy forgot to remind me to pack my shoes.” Similarly, within the training environment, we might hear things like, “X gave me a bad pass,” or “I couldn’t run the play because Y doesn’t know their role.”

Unfortunately, it is only when the pressure is on, and the tangible consequences of our actions are felt that we see the emergence of these positive and negative cultures. But they certainly do not form overnight. So where does it all begin?

Like most other habits in sport, it starts at the grassroots and junior levels. The coaching environments that young and developmental athletes are exposed to as they progress from junior to senior level, play a major role in the development of their positive and negative cognitive and behavioural practices. No one said coaching was a role to be taken lightly.

Fostering an environment of personal and team accountability irrespective of talent level is one that rids the excuse culture we so often see. Many times, favour might be granted to those, “talented,” young athletes leading them to believe that they are above personal responsibility. Excuses are consistently made for them to be allowed to play, schoolwork to be missed, leeway with training attendance or punctuality, the way they are allowed to speak to their teammates when placed in leadership roles and the “different” rapport they are allowed to engage in with the coach. Accountability should not be overridden simply because someone is a “talented,” athlete. You are doing them more harm than good, for when they begin to meet difficulty and failure as they progress to a more senior level they will begin to point fingers rather than identify what they might do better within themselves and ways to improve.

Team culture is premised on three main pillars: values, attitudes, and goals, which are set by both the coach and the members of the team. We don’t often enough make this a purposeful task and instead allow for it to form, “organically…” but indeed we should be deliberate with it! When individuals within any group feel a sense of ownership over a process and a sense of direct influence within the group it is then that they buy in to a culture wholeheartedly. All must align to achieve a successful and productive team.

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