6 Things Responsible Athletes Do That Irresponsible Ones Don’t

by Jeff Janssen, Janssen Sports Leadership Center President

One of the biggest frustrations our Janssen Sports Leadership Center facilitators and I consistently hear from coaches and athletic administrators is the lack of responsibility and accountability shown by many of today’s athletes. So many coaches are tired of dealing with entitled athletes who have little clue what it means to be responsible for themselves nor accountable to the team.

These irresponsible athletes rarely step up and take full responsibility for themselves nor own their choices, decisions, and actions and how they impact others.

Irresponsible Athletes often:

• fail to recognize and follow through on their commitments and responsibilities
• rely on others to motivate them, remind them, and cajole them into performing
• expect to be praised and rewarded when they have done little to deserve it
• play the victim role, pout, and complain when things don’t go their way
• offer lame and laughable excuses for why they didn’t get the job done (again)
• blame their coaches or teammates for their self-inflicted problems, mistakes, and failures
• encourage their parents to fight their battles and clean up their messes for them

This lack of responsibility and accountability takes a tremendous toll on coaches, captains, and administrators who have to constantly battle it. Further, this lack of responsibility and accountability erodes the team culture and quickly creates a Corrosive or Country Club Culture instead of a Championship Culture. Finally, if left unchecked, this unacceptable behavior obviously gives the team very little chance of success.

“The big thing that we want is someone who is willing to be accountable on a daily basis,” says Florida football coach Jim McElwain.

To help coaches and athletic directors address these problematic, pervasive, and important issues, I have put together a resource called The Athlete’s Responsibility Manual.

Like our popular Team Captain’s Leadership Manual and Team Captain’s Culture Manual, this interactive resource provides a practical program to teach your athletes exactly what it means to be 100% responsible for themselves and fully accountable to the team. Sadly, as many coaches have experienced, the fundamental life skills of responsibility and accountability are now something we actually have to formally teach and develop within our athletes because not enough of them demonstrate them at the level we need them to anymore.

As is often the case, part of the reason why today’s athletes are not as responsible and accountable as we need them to be is because they don’t have a complete or accurate understanding of what these critical concepts mean or entail at a practical level. So your initial educational efforts should start with teaching your athletes exactly what responsibility means and looks like in your program.

In working with thousands of athletes over the past 25 years, here are the 6 critical things I see highly Responsible Athletes do that irresponsible ones don’t. As you read through them, see how well your athletes compare and answer the questions for your team as you go.

Responsible Athletes...

1. Recognize and own the power of their choices, decisions, and actions

Choices, choices, choices... Responsible Athletes recognize they have dozens of choices available to them each and every day. These choices range from how much discretionary effort they put into their workouts, practices, and studies to what they eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner to what time they go to bed at night.

Responsible Athletes recognize that the many choices they get to make and the actions they ultimately take either set them up for success - keep them mired in mediocrity - or doom them to failure. They understand they have the amazing power to choose how much they want to invest themselves in their goals and dreams - and these daily choices have HUGE long-term consequences.

Not only do they recognize their vast array of available choices, they OWN their choices and their consequences. Rather than being victims of their circumstance, Responsible Athletes take the bull by the horns and actively make choices and take actions that maximize their success.

They adopt the owner’s mindset of: “The success or failure of my athletic career is predominantly on me. It will succeed or fail due to my choices, my decisions, and my actions.”

They take the attitude that if something is to be, it is up to me.

  • If playing time is to be, it is up to me to be so good my coaches can’t ignore me.
  • If winning is to be, it is up to me to perform in such a way that maximizes our chances of success.
  • If a championship is to be, it is up to me to inspire and lead my team in such a way that we are virtually impossible to beat no matter who we play.


No matter what the situation, Responsible Athletes recognize and own the power of their choices. Their mindset dictates the situation rather than letting the situation dictate their mindset.

How well do your athletes recognize the power of their choices, decisions, and actions?

How well do your athletes own their choices, decisions, and actions?

2. Consciously and consistently make helpful choices and minimize hurtful choices

Knowing and owning their power to choose, Responsible Athletes consciously and consistently make helpful choices that maximize their chances of success. They willingly choose to make investments in themselves and the team every single day. They choose to come early to workouts, go at game speed during practice, push through the fatigue and finish drills, touch all the lines in conditioning, eat healthy food, and get enough rest to be at their best. Responsible Athletes realize that all these helpful choices eventually sets them up for success and ultimately benefits the team.

Responsible Athletes also intentionally minimize the hurtful choices they could make. They avoid doing things that hurt themselves and the team like eating junk food, taking plays off, skipping reps in the weight room, playing on their phone instead of doing homework, using alcohol and other drugs, and pulling all-nighters.

By consciously and consistently making all of these helpful choices and minimizing hurtful choices, they maximize their chances of success. Responsible Athletes take charge of their training and preparation, and thus put themselves and their team in a position to be successful.

How well do your athletes consciously and consistently make helpful choices?

How well do your athletes consciously and consistently minimize hurtful choices?

3. Discipline themselves daily so others don’t have to

Probably the biggest thing coaches LOVE about Responsible Athletes is that they discipline themselves so others don’t have to. Responsible Athletes do what needs to be done, when it needs to be done, and how it needs to be done. Responsible Athletes do their jobs - they work hard, go to class, perform well in the classroom, complete their offseason training, act responsibly in their social lives - all without someone begging them to do it or needing to watch over them 24/7. They take responsibility for themselves and their actions and don’t need to be constantly reminded, supervised, motivated, or goaded into handling their responsibilities.

Conversely, irresponsible athletes are a coach’s nightmare and biggest time drain. Coaches constantly have to watch over and hound irresponsible athletes to take care of basic responsibilities. Or they have to assign others to “babysit” them. Sadly, the primary job of several college athletic department employees is basically to babysit irresponsible student-athletes who don’t take responsibility for themselves. Major college athletic departments spend hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to monitor and “motivate” some athletes who don’t take responsibility for themselves. Instead, think of the aggravation, time, and money that could be saved if athletes learned to take responsibility for themselves…

How well do your athletes discipline themselves so you and others don’t have to?

Which of your athletes are the best at disciplining themselves?

Which of your athletes struggle to discipline themselves? Why?


Our Championship Coaches Network members can click here to discover three more things that Responsible Athletes Do that Irresponsible Ones Don't in Part 2 of this article.


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