How to thwart big problems...through better communication

written by Erica Quam


Do you have any "doomsday" athletes on your team...everything that comes out of their mouths is dramatic?

"It's not my fault...I would've done it if it weren't for her...nothing ever goes right for me."

Ugggghhh! The blamer mentality used to drive me freaking crazy as a coach. It was definitely a trigger. So...what did I do?

When one of my athletes did something that really pissed me off...instead of getting angry...I knew it was time to teach.

When athletes struggle, many of them blame, complain, and criticize others....instead of accepting responsibility for their own outcomes and results. It's easier to play the victim and point a finger.

The thing is...this mentality doesn't just appear overnight. Your athletes have been using this kind of language for a long time. (They may even hear you use it too.)

Teach your athletes the language of responsibility. Helping them change their words will be an uphill battle at times...AND...this is the kind of work that's worth it!

You are gonna to have to be patient. It's gonna take time, consistency, and accountability. 

Being a leader means modeling personal responsibility - every single day - not just on the days when things go well. Our integrity originates from our words - especially when we’re struggling.
— Erica Quam

If you're committed to holding them accountable, maybe by next year, you'll see veteran athletes do some of this teaching for you!Little by little, you'll begin to shift the culture of your team.

I know what you're thinking..., "Yeah, but...where do I start? How do you teach this?"

There are simple ways to teach the language of responsibility. It doesn't have to take a lot of time. (Even taking as little as 15 minutes before you start practice can make a big difference.) 

The three key steps are 1) awareness 2) practice 3) accountability



When something goes wrong, the first thing 'blamers' want to know is whose fault is it? Through her research, Brené Brown defines blame as, "the discharging of discomfort and pain. Blame has an inverse relationship with accountability." That's because being responsible by taking ownership and holding yourself accountable is a vulnerable thing to do. 

Before you're athletes will even try to change, they first have to develop the awareness that they're blaming others.

  • Come up with examples. 

Model it first. Share examples of how you've blamed someone or something in your life. Then, ask your athletes for more examples of blame on your team.

  • Define responsibility. 

Change the spelling to ability to have a response.

  • Use the equation E + R = O

E (an event) + R (response or reaction) = O (the outcome). 

The event doesn't equal the outcome. The point of power is in your ability to have a response.  

  • Teach your athletes "I-Language" - using specific examples...

"You make me mad" vs "I feel mad at you." Ask if they can see how this changes who has the control. Words either oppress or empower. 

  • Challenge your athletes to change examples from blame to ownership - just by changing the words.  



Teaching your athletes how to accept personal responsibility is going to take practice. It's unrealistic to expect changes overnight.

What gets rewarded gets repeated. Look at the behaviors that get rewarded on your team. When people take responsibility, do they get rewarded? Too many times the wrong athletes get all the attention. 

When people who were doing things well start to slack off and backslide...then it's a sign you may be rewarding the wrong people. Think about it...why should they be the only one's working hard to be responsible if no one recognizes them for it? (Maybe you've even seen this happen on your team?)



How can your team hold one another accountable to these changes?

  • Coaches have to become masters of observation. You have to look for it. Pay more attention to the people doing things well and acknowledge them for it. Then spend less of your energy on the blamers.

It's the opposite of what many coaches do. I was guilty of it too. And it's tricky...there are times when you've got to call people out...AND you can't spend all your time and energy on them either. Or it'll become a vicious cycle...because'll start to resent those athletes that you're spending so much time on. When you do that, you've shifted yourself into the victim role...and the cycle continues.

I didn't really get this until I finally began to accept that I couldn't actually change someone. Your athletes have to be the one's to make the change. My timeline was never the same as their timeline. So...instead of getting so frustrated, I shifted my focus to people doing things well.

  • Ask your team how they'd like to hold one another accountable. Get them involved. See if they are open to making the commitment to using the language of responsibility. When they don't, ask if they're open to calling each other out. Empower them to help one another.

Blaming mistakes on others is contagious in a team culture. When one athlete watches someone pawn a mistake or failure off on another it can make them do the same to protect their self-image. 

Set high standards and boundaries for the way your athletes talk - to you, to each other, and to themselves. 

What do you do when your athletes play the blame game? What's worked for you? I'd love to hear from you. Share in the comments below.