Developing Accountable Leaders

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By Paul Markgraff, Managing Editor, This Is AFCA Magazine & AFCAWeekly.com

We live in a fast-moving world. Of that, there can be no doubt. One of the primary pitfalls of living in such a world is our penchant for instant gratification. After all, our computers and phones move at the speed of light. Our 40-yard-dash times get faster. Our student-athletes get bigger and stronger.

Why shouldn’t a student-athlete expect to be rewarded almost immediately after making a play on the field?

Rewards are all well and good, but the problem becomes the fact that student-athletes begin to take those rewards for granted. As a result, student-athletes become entitled.

Grant Teaff, executive director of the American Football Coaches Association and former head coach at Baylor University, understands these concepts all too well. He has spent considerable time during his career rooting out entitlement and replacing it with accountability and leadership.

“The game of football is one of the best teachers. Student-athletes must work, then execute. Then after they execute comes the next learning session,” he says. “They find out something didn’t work on the field and they have to ask why didn’t it work? When they figure that out, they realize it’s because one player didn’t do his job. Everyone on the team realizes that one person can destroy teamwork. Student-athletes learn accountability this way.

“Football not only teaches an individual that he must do his job for the team to be successful, but it also teaches that one individual can create a negative that the team needed to be a positive,” says Teaff.


As the season progresses, student-athletes learn how to learn.

“If they hear how to run a play from the coach and then they see it, they begin to believe what the coach is saying,” says Teaff. “If they see that offensive play drawn up on the board, it’s just a play drawn up there. Then, maybe the coach shows some video of the play. Next, they all go out and walk through it on the football field, but it’s just the steps they are walking through. Then, they get into practice and have to complete the things in live action that they’ve been shown and taught. The joy of seeing it work is one of the great motivators in any game.”

The need to receive immediate gratification starts to decline when student-athletes begin down this long journey. They understand accountability, and leaders who understand the need to bring their fellows along with them begin to emerge.

“Then it becomes a point of pride,” says Teaff. “You do things you need to do on a given play to make the play successful. Learning this way is one of the great things you see when teams become successful and it becomes its own reward.”

At the same time, when a team isn’t successful, the game can teach them how to act appropriately. What does a student-athlete do when his team loses game after game, even though he feels like his team is working just as hard as the winning teams?

“They learn that they must strive to be better at what they are doing,” says Teaff. “In the game of football, you can do everything perfectly and you may not win because the other guy is just better than you are. Maybe he’s a better athlete or the team has a better plan. So how do you deal with the loss? We all have adversity. Negative things are going to happen during a game.”

This can be a great teacher in and of itself. In each game, there is going to be a winner and a loser, which speaks to the concept of finality. The minutes and seconds tick ever toward the end of the game.

“When it’s over, the results are the results,” says Teaff. “We ask our coaches to use every aspect of the game to teach. Understanding negative outcomes – then acting appropriately – is very important in living the right kind of life.”

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