The R Word: Responsibility and how we can develop it in young people


If there’s one thing sport can teach, it’s responsibility.

Being responsible means performing a particular task assigned to you by someone else, or created by one’s own promise. A task that has a consequent for failure. Without responsibility, teams fall down at critical moments and individuals come up short of their potential. But expecting a young athlete to take responsibility, without teaching them how, or why it’s important, is a mistake.

Here are 3 things that must be in place before responsibility can be taken successfully.

  1. A clearly defined reason

Knowing ‘why’ you should take responsibility for something, and what is likely to happen when you do, is powerful. An athlete who clearly understands, or has experienced, the effects of good sleep, nutrition, and recovery, on their performance, will be more motivated to dedicate the necessary time and effort to change their behaviours. And an individual who’s aware of how their unkind words affect their teammates, is more likely to take responsibility for bettering their comments.

2. Shared decision-making

Having a say in what you take responsibly for is empowering. A team that sits down and defines their purpose, then decides together what tasks individual members need to take on, or share responsibility for, is much more likely to succeed. Humans are social animals; commitment comes when a person feels that they’re contributing to something much bigger than themselves.

3. Permission to fail

Failing at something can be a great catalyst for change. But it’s scary to take responsibility when you’re afraid of what getting it wrong might mean. As coaches, teachers and parents, we must encourage our kids to take responsibility for their choices without criticising their efforts, or tying any threatening consequent to the outcome.

Taking responsibility for their actions and development is incredibly important for every young athlete. However, it’s important to remember, responsibility is a behaviour that must be taught.

What do you think is the hardest part of handing over responsibility to our athletes?