How to Hold Players Accountable

I sat down with North Andover High School head coach Paul Tanglis recently. Earlier this year I sat down with his brother and assistant coach to discuss small details like yelling dead when the dribble is given up. The details are essential, but without players being held accountable to execute those details they do not matter. I asked Coach Tanglis about his thoughts on player accountability.

Hold Yourself Accountable First

Coach Tanglis believes that if something is not practiced, players should not be held accountable in games. It sounds like a fairly obvious point, but are coaches always fair in this regard? I know I have not always been fair. I read something the other day that advised coaches to stay away from drawing up new plays during games. If that play blows up in a game, the players are supposed to be blamed? Timing is essential to any play and explaining timing in a huddle is impossible.

Coach Tanglis gave an example of a time he was coaching a few years back at Stoneham High School. His team took the ball out close to the corner under their own basket. Every BLOB he had practiced up until that point in the season was directly under the basket. When the team turned it over in that sequence, the players did not deserve the blame. The blame belonged to him for not reviewing the situation in practice. And he told the team that.

Accountability in Core Principles

One rule that North Andover implemented this year is that any time a player is on the ground, everyone must sprint to pick him up. If the player tripped during a water break, the expectation did not change. It also did not matter if the worst player or the best player fell down. It was everyone’s responsibility to get that player upright. If they failed, there was a penalty. Some people might argue that the penalty is unnecessary. Coach Tanglis told me he believes players ultimately want to be held accountable to this extent. If they do not have a reason to hold up their end of the bargain, the rule will not stand on firm ground. The sense of urgency is not there to follow through on helping a teammate to his feet.

This simple rule helps alter a culture. Consider the idea from the perspective of the person on the ground. For the most part, this person arrives on the ground because of tough physical contact. Taking a charge, driving at the rim, or grabbing a loose ball. These plays are huge physical sacrifices, but most of all winning plays. Every time a player makes this sacrifice, their teammates cannot wait to greet them. This little display of care reinforces the desire to make more sacrifices and more winning plays.

Picking a teammate up also destroys egos. Hitting a three-pointer or losing a defender on a crossover results in highlighting the individualism of the sport. These plays are good, but they do not make the team stronger or each member feel valued. Every time a player hits the deck and the whistle blows it is a chance for the team to come together or remain individualized.

Accountability While Running a Set

One issue that all coaches struggle with is getting players to execute a set in game-play when they can do it in practice. Looking at it from the brain’s perspective, memory is an issue under high stress. Games are certainly more stressful than practices. There is also more chaos in a game. The coach cannot stop the action to reteach, the gym is louder, and the opposition is more difficult to read.

One rule that Coach Tanglis employs to make his players more accountable in executing a set play is to explain all five players role on the play. Players will foul out, get injured, or need a breather. All of these factors lead down a road of players eventually needing to be out of position. When players are out of position, it is important that a team can still execute. Thus, Coach Tanglis’ expectation is for all players to know where the other four are at any given moment in a play. As a result of memorizing it to this extent, even in higher pressure the action is rote for the players to carry out. And they do not need to reinvent what they do when the ideal players are not in their ideal positions.

Penalties for Being Unaccountable

How a coach chooses to enforce what players are accountable for is at their discretion. When a player forgets to pick up a teammate or is outright neglectful, Coach Tanglis will voice his displeasure and make them run. He feels no guilt because the players are aware of the expectation. The consequence typically amounts to thirty seconds so that the original practice plan is not compromised. In some ways, practice plans need to have these sorts of ideas built in because otherwise you are expecting the players to be perfect.

The players are not surprised when the penalty is enforced. In Coach Tanglis’ eyes, it serves two positive purposes. First, players recognize that a mistake of one member of the team costs the entire team. In a game, when one player makes a mistake, the outcome is felt by the entire team on the scoreboard. The whole team needs to be reprimanded for practice makes instead of one individual. After failing to pick up a teammate and doing a down and back sprint, the team now needs to be mentally tough enough to move on. It is no different than giving up a transition lay-up in a game.

Second, as the rule becomes clearer to the players, they begin to police themselves. Coach Tanglis is encouraged that the seniors he has coming back this season are going to be instrumental in enforcing the expectations this year. They are going to help ensure that accountability is not solely the job of the coach, but the job of every team member.

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