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Two Words in Coaching and Building a Culture: Accountability and Responsibility

Our coaching group chat over the past few weeks has taken on a great discussion regarding football coaches holding each other accountable. So I decided to dive into a touchy subject that we all deal with, but sometimes avoid getting into. We all ask our players to be accountable to the team....but what about us? What about our staff? Are WE as coaches holding one another accountable?

It's when a gameplan isn't coming together on the field, that’s when most of us start hearing words like “responsibility” and “accountability.” The word responsibility is appreciated and often used correctly, while accountability continues to be misperceived and gets a bad rap—I’ve done some researching and I would like to tell you why it shouldn’t.

The two words responsibility and accountability are brought up when coaches start talking about results. We especially start looking to assign them when we are losing or our players aren't performing as expected. Coach talk becomes, “Who’s responsible for lack of RedZone efficiency” and “Who is accountable for not picking up this blitz, or who dropped this coverage?”. Are we as coaches even using these words correctly? Many coaches we are surrounded by don’t think they have accountability issues; they may believe they have responsibility issues instead. However, it is accountability, not responsibility, that plays a major role in overcoming almost every challenge we face. To understand the difference, we must know what accountability is.

Accountable: “subject to the obligation to report, explain, or justify something; responsible; answerable.”

Responsible: “answerable or accountable, as for something within one’s power, control, or management.”

I believe there is a very important and glaring difference between the two—a night and day difference. When coaches use these words in the wrong way, it can create tendencies to blame, add unnecessary confusion, cause assistants to disengage, and lead to poor performance on the field.

So what truly is the difference between responsibility and accountablity? Well, responsibility is the on-going duty to complete tasks. Responsibility cannot be assigned to one person, therefore each person must take responsibility on his own to work towards the final goal. Accountability is assigned to one person. It is results driven and it is their assigned duty to give account of the tasks performed or not performed. It is final, it happens after the end goal is met or not met. Make sense? OK. How about this?

A successful team or organization can be successful in many ways:

  • Define staff roles and expectations with focus.

  • Establish clear staff chain of command.

  • Have cohesive systems in place.

  • Have staff feedback and daily staff meetings.

  • Hold everyone responsible for meeting expectations.

But, even then, these staffs can still get:

  • Coaches who feel silenced, who are reluctant to give feedback.

  • Coaches who will not help another coach.

  • Attitudes where coaches justify the lack of production.

  • Poor performance and development due to lack of clear communication.

These last points around communication and justification are possibly the most damaging. Justifying the way, you think and act to “cover your tail” pulls in the opposite direction of results, and results in this business are wins and losses…production on the field. Many times, especially in High School, staff is not given feedback or reviews until after the season…when its too late to achieve the results you desire. Or feedback only happens when things go wrong, nothing is proactive.

Changing responsibilities, moving the same staff from position to position sometimes becomes the answer. But it is not the correct way to handle the problem. Many times, a change in responsibility or position will not change the way a coach performs. The problem is a lack of personal accountability. If a coach will display some personal accountability and stop blaming other factors, he will become a better coach.

Accountability is the secret to responsibility. While defined responsibilities on a staff are essential, coaches should be demanded to hold themselves accountable for their role on the staff and team. Go beyond what you are responsible for. Be the best coach you can be. Put in the extra time in film review. Spend time correcting the bad and building depth.

A successful staff regardless of the win-loss record have coaches that will:

• Take ownership for the results of the organization

• No details slip through the cracks or are overlooked

• Coaches take pride in their job and their unit

• The entire staff works TOGETHER in collaboration to achieve results

Why? Because accountability is a broader concept than responsibility—it’s something you do to yourself, not something that someone does to you. It’s with this version of accountability that coaches not only take accountability for the results they need their group to achieve individually but for results that they are not 100% in control of. Teams that display positive accountability have a culture that hold themselves accountable for the ultimate results of the TEAM.

Personal accountability as a coach is a personal choice to rise above your own circumstances and demonstrate the ownership necessary for achieving desired results, which may or may not be wins and losses. If you as a coach (whether you are or are not in a position of control) can switch the staff’s mindset to one of positive personal accountability you will see positive results. In my research I have found 10 Accountability Traits for coaches that are at the core of “taking accountability.” Accountable individuals, teams, and organizations are good at:

1. Being personally invested and constantly asking “What else can I do?”

2. Ensuring your coaching is aligned with expectations

3. Build an "Environment of Trust" with collaboration from entire staff (Def & Off)

4. Communicating openly and candidly to include asking for and offering feedback

5. Being Honest and Open; Sometimes saying the Hard Things

6. Learning from both successes and failures

7. Acting on the feedback you receive from the Coordinator or Head Coach

8. Creatively dealing with obstacles not complaining about them

9. Tracking progress with Grades and Transparent Statistics

10. Doing the things, we say we will do

These traits are proven and are the mandatory actions that create the process of taking positive accountability. You as a coach should adopt the right mindset and live by these traits. I would say that you’ll quickly realize that accountability is not assigned, it is chosen.

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