Written and submitted by Dr. Kevin Elko, www.drelkoondemand.com
I have been lucky enough to work with a number of successful athletic teams that have made it as far as NCAA National Championships as well as Super Bowls. For every team I work with, I teach one simple, effective concept — Internal Accountability. Internal Accountability is when players are aware of their actions and make deliberate choices in practice, on the field, and off of the field. The accountability is upheld by the players themselves as well as by other players within their units.
To initiate this process, the concept of ownership has to be introduced, because it needs to be taught and repeated until it is ingrained in each player and the magic occurs. In order to instill this concept into players, I like to say, “The best year of your life will be the year you take ownership of every problem in your life.” A great example of how successful the concept of ownership is can be seen in the 2017-2018 Philadelphia Eagles. That year, every time Doug Pederson spoke to his team, he taught (and retaught) the concept of ownership. He had OWNERSHIP in red lights behind him as he spoke. This repetition reminded his players to stay on track, take accountability for their actions, and fix their mistakes.
The next step in the process is to break the team into units — offensive line, defensive line, etc… Once the teams are broken into units, they are taught how to connect with each other, help each other, and (most importantly) hold each other accountable. The big challenge in breaking the teams into units is that units may get offended. Let’s be honest, most of us are frequently offended; however, many athletes are held down in sports and in life, because they are so frequently offended. This is why Internal Accountability is so important. It helps players and coaches work with each other rather than offend each other. Additionally, players are taught within their units that when a teammate or coach is giving them direction, they are accountable to each other in helping one another avoid getting offended. They can do this by learning that feedback is positive.
For example, when I was doing mental testing for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys, we analyzed how players understood feedback. There are two core responses to feedback. The first one is, “What I did was wrong.” This shows that the athlete recognizes what went wrong and then uses critical thinking skills and further coaching to become better. The second response to feedback is, “Who I am is wrong.” This can be immobilizing for anyone. Therefore, we try to teach all of the athletes to keep their teammates and unit members out of self-pity and feeling offended when they receive feedback.
The third step in the process is demonstrating the difference between feelings and choices. For example, an athlete might say, “I feel hurt, but I’m going to choose not to pout.” You’d be amazed by how many 300-pound NFL players I know who lose the ability to focus on the game, because they’re mad that the coach looked at them funny, nobody passed them the ball, or they can’t run the ball. To stop this, I like to say, “Do the right thing. Your feelings will catch up with you.” However, the best way to get this through to the players is to have them teach one another to not get offended and stay out of self-pity. Additionally, they should always hold one another accountable — the ownership is turned over to the team, and TEAMS who follow this process win championships.
In our program, Dr. Elko On Demand, we teach this process in more detail and elaborate on other areas of accountability within the unit. These areas include: vision, process, encouragement, staying inspired, and no mental clutter. It is a great guide for coaches who need coaching on how to coach. We all need to be accountable and take ownership for one another, and that is one of the great things about sports: they teach us what we need to be great in life.
I worked with Florida State before their national championship game against Auburn. In that game, Florida State was way behind, but before every snap, the quarterback would ask the team, “Are you strong?”
They’d answer, “I’m strong if you’re strong.”
The quarterback would respond: “I am strong.” Let’s teach that we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, to own everything that comes our way, and to teach and keep each other accountable and raise up higher!”