Often times when we try to describe leadership, we are really searching for another word:
It’s one thing to provide direction. It’s another to demonstrate a willingness to be responsible for your actions.
For a 14U/16U hockey player, accountability is a big deal. It’s an age where we often find out which players are and aren’t accountable – but it’s also something that shouldn’t just magically appear, says Heather Mannix, the female hockey manager for USA Hockey’s American Development Model.
Accountability, Mannix says, can be fostered over the course of time.
“I think it’s something we can start to see around that (14-16) age, but it’s something that needs to be developed at younger ages,” she said.
To her, it starts with making players responsible for their own actions and choices.
“It’s not ‘mom forgot my elbow pads.’ You forgot your elbow pads. We have an opportunity to instill accountability at all ages,” she said. “So when they get to be 14U or 16U, it’s up to them to be accountable to themselves. They aren’t being held accountable to us as coaches, they should be holding themselves accountable.”
That can be a challenge, Mannix concedes, particularly with the way younger generations are being raised.
“With young kids, it’s easy to tell them what they need to do, this is why you’re doing it. With especially this generation coming up, they’re over-structured and we haven’t really put a lot of responsibility on them,” she said. “We structure everything from play dates to practice. It’s going to continue to be a challenge as the generations come through if we over-structure things and take away choice.”
Giving kids a vested interest in their choices – and therefore their success in life and on the ice – helps make them accountable.
“I think one of the ways accountability can be developed is instilling autonomy and ownership over the choices they make,” Mannix said. “Giving them a choice at younger ages so they begin to take ownership of their own development, then they take ownership of performance and nutrition. They hold themselves accountable because they have a vested interest.”
That shows up within hockey structures in many ways, but one of them is being a good teammate. While some players might have more fully developed senses of accountability than others, all can learn if they are taught.
“I think being a good teammate absolutely should be taught and can be taught,” Mannix said. “We have to role model what being a good teammate is by how we interact with parents, other adults, our team. Coaches who take accountability for a mistake – coaches saying that’s my bad, that’s my mistake – it’s a positive thing when a coach can do that.”
It’s one of the things that creates a culture of accountability within a team.
“If you see somebody who is not being a good teammate you can say this isn’t a part of our culture. This isn’t a part of our values,” Mannix said. “When a coach has a well-defined identity of the team and accountability is part of that identity, that’s another way we can foster that with our players. Having an identity as a team is one of the most impactful things you can do.”
That creates players who don’t run away from misplays or missteps.
“I think one of the biggest ways we see accountability is taking responsibility for actions on the ice. Bad play? You missed a pass? We often see it show up as blaming,” Mannix said. “If they are blaming their teammates or yelling after a bad play, typically they’re not taking accountability for their own actions and how they impacted the play.”
Conversely, those who have learned and grown as accountable players and teammates will own their share of the blame – and everyone will improve as a result.
“Good leaders emerge and say I should have done this better,” Mannix said. “That’s when you see the leadership role with accountability in a team environment. This is our problem, and we will solve it together.”