Bo Hanson, 4x Olympian and Coaching Consultant. 

Lack of Athlete Accountability Transcript

Today I wanted to take this opportunity for this week’s video to have a bit of a rant. Working with a number of clients as we do over the period of an entire season and having worked with literally hundreds of teams. There’s been a bit of a common theme emerge and it’s something that I find particularly frustrating given how I approached my own sport.

If I reflect back on my own sporting experiences, one of the things that I feel was my strength was the fact that I became a student of the sport. What I mean by becoming a student of the sport is someone who takes a lot of ownership of their own performance, who wants to discuss the finer intricacies as to how to improve whether it be from a mental or a technical or an emotional standpoint and really wanting to understand the tiny little things that you need to get right.

Ultimately what we’re referring to here is a student of the sport has been given the necessary tools to be successful, not just that, they’re prepared to use them. In many ways when the coach wasn’t available or wasn’t around in the context of a sport like rowing, it’s interesting because it’s a sport where you push off from the pontoon and you’re at the Olympic Final and the coach says to you: “Good luck, have a great race. Enjoy the experience.” For the next 45 minutes that coach is not available to help you. It’s one of the aspects of rowing that really does create a high level of accountability for one’s performance. A coach cannot intervene between the time that push off from the pontoon to when you sit on the start-line and finally start the race. So someone has to be accountable for putting into practice the tools that you’ve been given, and that you know have proven to be successful in the past in helping you produce a great performance.

So what I’m talking about here is a number of teams that I’ve helped in the past that have been given the tools, yet are still at the stage where: is it that they’re not competent? Are they not proficient in using the tools? Or is it because it does take a lot of discipline to use the tools that you know are going to help you improve.

When I think about a presentation that I watched by Lou Holtz who was at the Lacrosse Convention, perhaps four years ago, I sat in his presentation and he was speaking about sport today – leadership and how student-athlete are to act and behave. He put up as a philosophy on the board, the words ‘rights’ and ‘privileges’. When we think about a Division 1 athlete or any athlete really and the amount of rights and privileges they’ve been given, the fact that they’ve been selected to participate in a sport, you get the opportunity to participate across your country and to travel. It’s a pretty great life, really.

There are a lot of rights that go with it as well as the privileges of wearing the team clothing, to represent your college – a lot of privileges. If you feel like once you’ve been selected for the team that it’s all about your rights and privileges, it’s going to be a pretty meaningless experience because, in reality, it’s more about your obligations and responsibilities. What are you accountable for delivering?

The reality is that, as an athlete, you’re accountable for delivering a performance. We don’t need to make apologies for that because to run a sports program today, I mean I used to think about how much money it cost us to get sent to the Olympic games. I think Australia did a study, I can’t remember specifically but the figures were roughly one to two millions dollars per medal – that’s what it cost the taxpayers in our country to produce an Olympic medal. That is a fortune that is a lot of money when you think about all of the other things that money could be spent on.

So today we’d like to see athletes being a little more accountable for using the tools that they’ve been given. Obviously that means becoming competent and proficient in those tools. It also means being disciplined enough to actually utilize them. If you look at an example, I mean we talk about mental toughness a lot; the ability to set short term goals, the ability to think positively to yourself, to say positive things to other people, to manage your stress – those four simple steps don’t just happen on game day when your turn up. You’ve got to practice that during the week. It’s not that you won’t have negative thoughts, mentally tough people have negative thoughts as well but they’re disciplined enough to know that they’re having them and then break the pattern and say “stop” and reframe it into a positive. Or they say something positive to the person beside them that is a strategy that you can utilize. We used to talk a lot in rowing that at the halfway point of a race, your legs are already burning, your entire body feels it needs to shut down. At that point if you haven’t prepared for what that’s going to feel like, if you don’t have a strategy in place to help you get through that next three or four minutes, then your performance is just going to slide down the hill and all of the other crews are going to go past you.

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