In order to maximise their potential, and thrive under whatever challenges the game provides, players must be creative, independent decision-makers. Therefore, a crucial component of coaching is helping players learn to think and act for themselves. This, in turn, requires us to give them autonomy in their developmental journeys. Below, we discuss ways to empower the kids we coach, and encourage them to take ownership of their learning and development.

In This Article

Encouraging Accountability within Our Teams

A key step to giving players ownership of their development is helping them to cultivate a sense of accountability — both to themselves and their teammates — and not blame perceived failure on other members of the group when results don’t match their expectations.

“I see a lot of blame culture emerging amongst teenage players,” says PDP Co-Founder Dave Wright. “But I have a rule of never talking about other kids. It’s common to hear players or parents complain that another player is getting too many minutes or not playing well, but I won’t engage with it.”

In addition to discouraging blame cultures within our teams, we can encourage greater accountability by reframing success for our players; by reminding individuals that their long-term development is the priority, we can alleviate the frustration they may feel when results don’t go their way on gameday.

We can reinforce this idea further by working with players to create individual development plans, thereby placing each of them at the centre of our coaching environment and encouraging them to take ownership of their own learning objectives. It requires a good relationship between player and coach, but can be an incredibly effective way to empower individuals, and give them the confidence to drive their own learning.

Helping Players to Take Initiative

The principles of Self-Determination Theory state that players are often more engaged when they have a level of autonomy in their learning; when they don’t just feel that they are improving, but that they have input into how they are improving, they are generally more motivated as learners.

Of course, giving players autonomy requires us to change the leadership culture in our teams and clubs — from traditional, top-down models to autonomy-supportive approaches, where coaches take a facilitative role, and players have the freedom to express themselves. 

“As players go through the teenage years, we can certainly put more responsibility on them,” says Wright. “It can begin with something like player-led warm-ups; then we could let them lead other parts of our practices, or take ownership of team talks; maybe we could put a leadership group together.

“These initiatives all show players that they need to own part of the team and its culture. Instead of doing everything for them, we’re putting a bit more onus on them.”

Creating a Team Culture

One of the first steps to improving accountability within our teams is to forge a culture of togetherness. “A blame culture can easily infect a group and cause certain individuals to feel that they’re being picked on,” says Mark, a grassroots coach from the PDP community. “So it’s crucial that we create a set of shared values. And a value that I always insist upon is that the club is a family.”

The values our team collectively holds will ultimately underpin its culture. But to effectively create shared values within our teams, we must give players ownership when developing them. This will not only empower players, but motivate them to hold themselves, and their teammates, to account when upholding them.

“It’s okay for a club to have values, but the kids have to buy into them,” Mark continues. “And obviously, the older the players, the more input they’ll have into creating them.

“I want my group to look after each other. I want a strong bond to exist between the players. If a new person arrives, for example, I always tell a couple of players to look after them until they know everyone — to be there if they need a partner. This is us living our culture; the club is a family.

“And it helps those players too,” Mark concludes. “The responsibility can be really empowering for them. Kids can achieve a lot when we show that we trust them, and give them the freedom to act.”

The Key Points

  • We should encourage players to be accountable, and not blame others when results don’t match their expectations.
  • Individual development plans are great ways to reframe success and give players ownership of their learning.
  • Players are often more engaged when given autonomy in their learning processes.
  • We can help players to take initiative by offering them more responsibility in our training sessions and on gameday.
  • A strong team culture, built upon values developed and shared by our players, is fundamental to establishing an effective learning environment.

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