12/10/11 — OPINION: Accountability matters in life, and sports

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OPINION: Accountability matters in life, and sports

By Andrew Stevens
Published in Sports on December 10, 2011 11:23 PM

Accountability -- the act of taking responsibility for our own actions and realizing the impact of our behavior -- is felt by others and not just ourselves. This characteristic is unfortunately discussed much more than it is lived out.

I was surprised and yet refreshed, to hear a local high school basketball coach say recently that accountability is a vital part of what he attempts to teach his players. Failure to convert at the free throw line, committing a turnover or missing an assignment defensively are all fundamental principles worth being held accountable for.

"The same way there is accountability on the teachers there is accountability on the kids," he said. "If you want it to just come to you and it doesn't, that's on you in the end. A lot of kids are going and playing AAU basketball and they aren't working on their skill development. That's why there are so many high school kids who can't dribble with their left hand. Kids for some reason trust some people as experts in the game of basketball when they're really not."

In covering four varsity boys' and four varsity girls' basketball games this season, I've witnessed 16 teams shoot a combined 161 for 268 at the free throw line. Thirty-nine of those missed free throws came in either the fourth quarter or overtime.

The coach I spoke with informed me that his team spends little time practicing free throws, choosing to focus instead on proper shooting technique.

"If I tell a kid in practice to shoot 70 free throws and he has terrible shooting form, I've accomplished nothing," he said "But, if they don't work on their shooting form on their own, they can't expect their free throws to get better."

This coach went on to explain that each spring he provides all interested basketball players in his school the opportunity to have their shot video taped so that it can be reviewed and improved upon if necessary. Unfortunately, most students forgo this chance to improve and instead hide behind the excuse, "Coach, that's just how I shoot."

This, "that's just how I am. Why try to improve?" mentality says a lot about our society, not just high school athletes.

A former player of this local coach began his high school career with an awkward shooting motion and his play on the court was described by an assistant coach as "out of control." Through a willingness to have his shot video taped and critiqued, and spending countless hours alone in the gym on weekends, this same player epitomized what it means to be a leader by his senior season. He is now having a successful college basketball career.

Before our conversation was over, this coach offered insights on high school players and what it takes to execute in late-game situations, the importance of having more than one move to get by a defender and the value of hard work when no one is looking. It all eventually came back to being held accountable and having a tireless work ethic.

Fundamentals aren't necessarily flashy. They don't always show up in box scores or make you the next YouTube sensation. Fundamentals simply win basketball games.

Accountability truly starts when we're willing to admit we have flaws and we put aside our pride in order to commit to the work required to improve. Whether in life or on the basketball court, that's what it means to be successful.