Small Daily Actions Lead to Big Team Results

Accountability Exercise for Sports Teams and Athletes

Essential Skills for Athletes and Sports Teams

The physical abilities of athletes combined with the sport-specific tactical training involved in a particular sport has a major impact on the success, or lack thereof, experienced by a given youth, high school, collegiate, or even professional sports team. While training the body to execute in a certain manner is of high importance in sport, there are other essential skills that separate two teams that are made up of athletes with relatively equal physical gifts and abilities.

One of the most common challenges I have witnessed from the sports teams that I have worked with has been the amount of focus, time, and energy athletes place on the “uncontrollables” instead of the “controllables”. Athletes tend to dedicate a large portion of their focus on either what the other team is doing or worrying about what the result is going to be; oftentimes forgetting that the desired result will only happen when 100% of their focus and energy is dedicated to that which they can control.

Athletes go through a tremendous amount of physical training in preparation for practices, games, and the overall sport season. It is reasonable to conclude that those same athletes, who are so willing to challenge themselves physically, will also be willing to do so when it comes to the leadership side of training! Helping athletes become better at leading themselves and others through challenge, adversity, fear, and temptation is just like helping them become better at a specific sport skill – with intentional practices, coaches can help their athletes develop “the intangibles” that are necessary for success in sport and, more importantly, in life!

Control the Controllable Team Accountability Exercise

First, grab a blank sheet of poster paper and draw a circle in the center. The circle should take up about 75% of the poster paper. Write the word “Controllable” inside the circle and the word “Uncontrollable” outside of the circle.

Next, sit down with your athletes for a discussion about that which is in the team’s control and that which is not. Once the discussion begins, have the athletes write down their responses on the poster paper (Controllable items go inside of the circle). The coach should serve as a discussion facilitator – not just giving her/his athletes the answers, but allowing them to discuss the matter and form their own “controllable vs. uncontrollable” list. By facilitating the discussion, the coach creates a greater sense of ownership amongst her/his athletes.

Some examples that should come up as “Controllable”:

  • Actions and reactions
  • Communication between athletes and between athletes and coaches
  • Effort and commitment

Some examples that should come up as “Uncontrollable”:

  • Weather
  • Trash talk from opponents or opposing fans
  • Crowd noise
  • Officials or referees

Once the brainstorm discussion is complete, ask the athletes to dive into each of the “controllable” items in greater detail. For example, ask them to define the TANGIBLE actions that represent being prepared for a practice or game. Athletes will have a greater understanding of expectations when there are tangible actions used to define less tangible concepts. Once each “controllable” item has been defined, have your athletes sign the poster board, signifying their commitment to live up to the team standards that have been created.

Once the lists have been completed (controllable vs. uncontrollable) and each item in the “controllable” list has been defined by tangible actions, it is up to the coach to make the expectations part of the team’s normal routines. Encourage captains to execute a daily team check-ins (before/after practices or off-season workouts) to keep the “controllables” top of mind! The review should include:

  • Some sort of shout-out or celebration when individual athletes and/or the whole team has met or exceeded the standards (tangible actions) that represent each “controllable” item
  • A discussion on how to improve when an athlete and/or the whole team has missed the mark
  • The coaching, support, and leadership to help athletes rise to the high positive standards outlined during the activity

Have questions about implementing the “Control the Controllable Team Accountability Exercise”? Sign up for a free 15-minute consultation with Dan Jaskot from Empower Leadership to discuss in greater detail at

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