Accountable Teammates Eliminate Excuses

By Jeff Janssen, Janssen Sports Leadership Center

Here's an excerpt to share with your athletes from our all-new Teammate's Accountability Manual...

Accountable Teammates refuse to offer or tolerate excuses for their mistakes, errors, and losses. Rather than searching for an excuse to pin the problem on someone else, Accountable Teammates accept full responsibility and accountability for it. They own it completely instead of trying to justify it. In effect, they play the Claim Game, own the situation and believe it happened or didn’t happen because of their own actions or inaction.


“You can find a thousand excuses in the game of football. Some of them might even be legitimate, but we don’t want to hear them at Ohio State. You screw up, you own it, and then you work twice as hard to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Urban Meyer, Ohio State Football Coach

When You Play the Blame Game Everyone Loses

Playing the Blame Game means attempting to shift the responsibility for the problem away from yourself and on to someone or something else that is often outside of your control.

For example, I can remember being asked to work with a program that was really struggling. When I talked with the athletes of the team to figure out exactly what was going on, they complained the coaches weren’t playing the right people, using the right strategy in games, or training and conditioning the team in the right way. The athletes thought the coaches were the primary problem and needed to change (or be changed) for the situation to get any better. When I asked the athletes how much of the team’s problems were due to the coaching staff, they complained that 90% of the issues the team experienced was due to the coaches.

Of course the coaching staff had a drastically different viewpoint. They were highly frustrated by the team’s lack of focus and effort in practices and the weight room, the athletes were not successfully executing the game plan, there was poor leadership in the locker room, and the athletes lacked the desire to work on their game. They too thought the only way to improve the situation was for the athletes to make significant changes or to recruit new ones. When I asked the coaches how much of the team’s problems were due to their concerns with the athletes, the coaches estimated that 85% of problems were based on the athletes.

Unfortunately, both sides blamed the other and were not aware of or accountable for how they contributed to the problems. It was much easier to complain about what the other group was doing or not doing than it was to analyze, accept, and be accountable for their part in the problem. Obviously this situation was only getting worse because each group almost entirely blamed the other side for the frustrations rather than looking within and owning their part of the problem and coming up with solutions for it.

After hearing out the athletes and the coaches, we were able to get both sides to refocus on to the perceived 10-15% of the problem they thought they were personally responsible for. In doing so, it was remarkable how much progress was made when they stopped blaming the other side and started being more accountable for their “small” part of the problem and finding solutions for it.

Playing the Blame Game makes someone or something else the scapegoat for the problems. Instead of shouldering the load for your difficulties, you unfairly and unceremoniously dump them on others. While it provides you with a convenient way to try to absolve yourself from the issue, you place the crux of the problem on someone else. This approach obviously avoids the real issue, causes animosity with others, and only escalates and prolongs the problem.


The 6 Most Popular Plays in the Blame Game Playbook

1. Complain

Unfortunately, the absolute easiest thing to do when there is a problem is to complain about it. Complaining is the default position for the Negative Nellie’s on your team. They let everyone know that something is wrong and seem to derive a perverse sense of joy and pleasure in bemoaning and belaboring the problems. Rather than griping and moaning about problems and bringing down the rest of the team, Accountable Teammates assess the situation, enlist others’ viewpoints, find the root cause of it, devise an intelligent plan to fix, and take action to solve the problem.

“Losers assemble in small groups and complain.
Winners assemble as a team and find ways to win.”
Bill Parcells, NFL Coach

2. Blame

Blaming someone or something else for your failure is the hallmark of the Blame Game. When problems occur, many athletes are quick to find fault with someone or something outside of themselves. Errors and mistakes are often blamed on things like adverse weather conditions, incompetent officiating, faulty equipment, poor playing conditions, etc.

While blaming things for your failure is bad enough, it is even worse to blame the people on your own team. One of the quickest ways to lose your teammates’ and coaches’ trust and respect is to blame them for problems. If you try to blame the loss on your teammates because of their poor play or lack of effort, or your coaches because of inept strategy and play calling, I can guarantee you will have a frustrated team on your hands and damage your credibility, respect, and trust with them.

3. It’s Not My Job

Thinking and acting as if a problem is “Not My Job” is another common strategy in the Blame Game Playbook. These people see the problem but because they perceive it as being outside of their position, role, or jurisdiction, they let it slide and wait for others to address it rather than doing what they can to help.

A great example of the “Not My Job” mentality is the cartoon of the boat sinking. While people on one of the end of the boat where the hole is try frantically to bail out the water flooding in, the guy on the other side of the boat just idly watches and calmly and cluelessly remarks, “Sure glad the hole isn't at our end!”

Accountable Teammates realize: You’re all in the same boat! You’re all going to sink and possibly drown if the holes and leaks on your team don’t get quickly noticed, bailed out, and successfully fixed – no matter what your role, position, or job might be. Rather than hoping and waiting for others to be aware of and address the issues, Accountable Teammates realize it is everyone’s job to make sure the team is positively and productively rowing in the right direction without taking on water. Even though a situation may not be your primary role, you are still actively involved in doing what you can to notify, support, advise, act where appropriate, and hold accountable those whose primary role it is to address the issue. If you don’t, you all better be prepared to sink and go down with the ship!

4. Denial

Some athletes and coaches attempt to deny problems exist. They refuse to address the issues because, in their minds, admitting the problem only makes it worse. So they try to pretend it doesn’t exist or isn’t that bad. Denial often happens when a teammate’s overactive social life has become a distraction for the team – but the athlete doesn’t see it that way or want to admit it. If left unchecked, your teammate can soon get themselves in some serious trouble, cause a black eye for your whole team, and get your team on ESPN’s SportsCenter for all the wrong reasons.

5. Cover Up

Sometimes athletes and coaches know there is a problem but they do their best to cover it up. As they say, it is rarely the actual crime that is the biggest problem but the attempt to cover it up. When you attempt to sugarcoat, hide, or outright lie about issues to keep them from your teammates and coaches you might be successful for a while. However, usually these issues fester like fungus, multiply like mold, and eventually explode in your face if not dealt with in a timely and constructive manner. There is only so much dirt you can sweep under your team’s carpet before it becomes too lumpy and people start twisting their ankles on it.

Accountable Teammates don’t hide things from each other and the coaching staff. They invest the time to find out exactly what is happening and keep tabs on the team. If there is a potential concern, they alert the right people, at the right time, and in the right way about it while still preserving the confidential discussions they might have had with others.

“The most crucial aspect of communicating: telling the truth. Lying and quibbling are unnecessary impediments to working as a team. Face-to-face communication and truth should serve as the basis of all team communication.”
Mike Krzyzewski, Duke Men’s Basketball Coach

6. Confusion

Some athletes claim confusion as the source of their failure. They say they were confused about the strategy, confused about their role, confused about the signal or call, confused about the practice time, etc. Rather than being accountable for proactively clearing up any confusion they might have, they opt to put the onus on their coach or teammate for not communicating clearly enough. Obviously both sides need to be accountable when there is legitimate confusion in a player’s mind or on the team itself. Both sides need to actively avoid and clarify situations where there is confusion, rather than let it slide. But using confusion as a cop out is not acceptable nor being accountable.


All of these are examples of excuses that athletes and sometimes coaches use to try to excuse their mistakes, errors, screw ups, problems, losses, failures, bad grades, etc. They minimize or eliminate their own accountability for the negative result by trying to shift the blame and dump it on to some one else. Few people buy it and no one respects it.

Own Your Outcomes by Playing the Claim Game – “I’m Accountable”

Ultimately, accountability is all about owning your outcomes – all of them. The Good. The Bad. And especially the Ugly.

It means claiming and owning the results you caused, contributed to, or condoned in some way. It’s easy to own your outcomes when you win and achieve success. But Accountable Teammates and leaders own the outcomes all the time – especially when they are negative. Especially when they’re ugly. Especially when the “stuff” hits the fan.  As President Harry Truman said, “The buck stops here.” They refuse to Play the Blame and instead Play the Claim Game by being responsible, accountable, transparent, clear, truthful, and remorseful.

"Ninety-nine percent of the failures come from people who have the habit of making excuses."

George Washington Carver



    Sign up for info to help your team!