Changing Habits Through Accountability Structures

Having watched hundreds and hundreds of different coaches conduct practice over the course of the past quarter century, one common theme involves many coaches at all levels failing to understand the difference between accountability and accountability structures.

Let’s say you show up for your first day on the job as a widget salesman, and your boss chastises you because you decided to wear tan socks.

“Young man, we wear black socks at work- this is a place of business, not a fashion show.”

You’d probably think, “OK, that’s a little odd, but he’s the boss so I won’t wear tan socks anymore.”

Then, the next day, he’s on your case because you’re wearing a red tie.

“Are you kidding me? A red tie? Wow, kid. Unbelievable. No damn red ties!!”

Now you’re thinking, “OK, whatever, I guess I’ll leave my red ties in the closet, but I sure do wish my boss would tell me what to avoid before I screw up instead of after.”

Then, on day 3, he jumps your ass for bringing to-go food back to the office from lunch.

“How unprofessional are you, anyway? THE WORK PLACE IS NOT A CAFETERIA, DUMBASS!!”

At this point, you’re thinking, “Screw this guy. He gets pissed at me every day, always for something different, and he still hasn’t told me what the hell he expects.”

This is an example of ample accountability (your boss is holding you accountable for choices that he views as unacceptable) without accountability structures (no expectations were proactively spelled out, and the accountability seems random because it’s all over the board). Regrettably, this is what most basketball practices look like to me, and what most basketball practices (and film sessions, etc) feel like to the players- lots of accountability (coaches yelling, kids being forced to run sprints) with no accountability structures (clear and specific expectations set before the first practice and enforced consistently throughout the season).

Accountability structures can come in many forms, but they abide by the same principles:

1. Clear and specific standards set proactively, before the first practice.

2. Consistent enforcement of the standards throughout the course of the season.

Here are some examples from my own experiences of effective accountability structures:

1. At Georgia Tech, Coach Paul Hewitt set forth the standard that all team members would attend every single class, or the whole team would run at 5:00 AM. He assigned his staff different days to check classes, and he held the line on that standard with complete rigidness. The predictable result? Georgia Tech men’s basketball players never missed classes.

2. At Peaster High School, Coach Danny Henderson implemented the “brick system” for missed boxouts, whereby every time a player missed a boxout, he had to do 10 pushups with a full volume verbal self-reminder to “BOXOUT!!” Peaster High School, in spite of never having any real size, dominated the defensive backboard and won 3 Texas state championships.

3. At Lafayette College, we clipped shots in games and practices when possible and the “bigs” had to do 10 pushups for every time they didn’t crash the glass. This led to Lafayette going from 7.5 offensive rebounds per game to 11.8 offensive rebounds per game.

The bottom line is that you change habits through accountability structures, not through arbitrary accountability. In my experiences, holding kids accountable 1 time for 30 different things is far less effective than holding kids accountable 30 times for 1 thing. As the legendary Coach JD Mayo has said too many times to count, “The children will do what you allow them to do, but if you try to hold them accountable for everything, you will in fact hold them accountable for nothing.”

Thanks for reading, and huge thanks for Coach Raveling for allowing me to share some ideas.

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