Taking Ownership of Your Development


Photo by Wuilmar Matias-Morales on Unsplash

It’s easy to claim or take ownership when things are going well. Oftentimes, positive results are due to a series of good moves, actions and reactions, and circumstances that benefit an individual or the collective.

But what about when things don’t necessarily pan out as intended?

Do you take ownership of the bad as willingly as you do with the positive results and outcomes?

I see people (players, coaches, parents) who love praise. They don’t shy away from the plaudits and more often than not, the recognition they receive is well-deserved.

However, when things don’t go according to plan and outcomes are less favorable there’s often a natural reaction for people to distance themselves from that shortcoming. I’ve done it. So have you. After all, we are human. There’s a insatiable urge to assign blame and deflect from ourselves.

“It wasn’t my fault the team lost.”

“It wasn’t my mark that scored the goal for the other team.”

“It wasn’t my job to pick up that late run at the far post.”

“I completed all of my passes.”

“My team didn’t follow the game plan the way I coached it.”

“It wasn’t my kid that lost possession in the defensive third.”

Sound familiar?

Here’s the thing, as true as those isolated scenarios may be this is still a rudimentary exercise in deflection guised as advanced distancing oneself from the outcome.

When things go well, the defection disappears and it’s all about jumping on the caboose of the train headed to greener pastures.

Here’s where people get hung up – the final action may have not been in their realm of roles and responsibilities, but what about the instances and moments leading up to that unfavorable action or outcome? 

It is in this deconstruction where the most learning should take begin and take place. In fact, I would even go so far to say that the outcome is obvious and is therefore, less valuable (we can’t change it) because what matters most is course correcting the reactions and actions that transpire leading up to that goal conceded, game lost, or whatever the situation may be.

In other words, the outcome, albeit important, is not where the emphasis of reflection should take place. The leading actions is what matters more.

For players, perhaps it’s their starting position, communication, reaction time, compete level, ability and willingness to make an extra run or tackle or simply track someone else’s mark.

For coaches, perhaps it’s down to communication and observation before things go south. Maybe it’s down to preparation in training.

Regardless of outcome, taking ownership is crucial for player development as well as personal development.

Taking ownership always involves decision-making. I’ve said that decision-making is an actual skill for many years and I firmly believe that skill needs to be refined and improved on with some degree regularity or it will atrophy.

Through reflection, a self-audit, or simply taking stock of results and outcomes stemming from those decisions I’ve learned to make consistently better decisions. The context here pertains to action(s) on the field and of course, off it.

I often reflect on the decisions and their importance to the larger scope of a journey. There’s no getting around it – the decisions one makes will no doubt dictate the life they lead – and live. 

When you think about it, each day is a series of decisions and processes broken down and sequenced to form a schema of events we call days, weeks, months, and years.

Players are often less aware as they should or could be about decisions they make that affect their development as a player and as a person.

Create a vision and share it. For coaches, it’s about making players feel part of something bigger than themselves. Getting total buy-in is a crucial element that comes down to being able to communicate your philosophy/mission/vision early and often. The other part is seeking continual input so players see what you see and are committed to working toward that result.

For players, it may mean goal setting to a granular level. Identifying the how in a task is critical. Maybe it means extra technical or scenario-based training sessions that provide added context and repetition for a skill that needs refinement. Perhaps it’s telling your coaches and trainers your tangible goals and checking in with them to make sure you’re displaying a degree of maturity and buy-in on your end. Remember, coaches need guidance as well – they’ll respect players who communicate clearly and realistically.

Set some goals. How often do you seek the ideas, knowledge, and insights of people in your ecosystem? Now, how often do you write that message and feedback down and action upon it? Players are notorious for simply wanting to improve without creating an actual action plan to go about that improvement path.

Players love to assume everyone is there for them and their needs – this is not the case. Coaches, trainers, and teammates have their own goals to accomplish and they likely are working towards their own, not yours. This is why Point 1 is crucial.

Explain Your Why. Don’t identify your reason for doing what you do. Explain to yourself and then explain it others. Rationalize where you on your journey (or where you think you think you are). Don’t just assume with understand where you are and where you want to be without making it crystal clear they understand why that task/goal is important and why you’ve engaged them in that process.

Explain Your Why Not’s. So you’ve done the creative thing and identified the purpose for your journey. Maybe it’s to play at the highest possible level given your circumstances and resources. Maybe it’s to coach at a local club or get more coaching education. Perhaps as a parent, it’s about understanding your role in the whole picture.

This part is difficult. Explain why you’re not on your way to that next step. Maybe you’ll get a bit angry about it. Hell, you may even see yourself or others in a different light or through a different lens. Good. And let’s be mature about it. This is beyond deflection and blaming others. Write down a few things that YOU could and should do, today, right now, that you simply aren’t doing. Start there and examine why you are NOT doing what you need to do.

Have one good day. This is important. When things are going wrong and you aren’t seeing progress. Start scaling things down. Do something within your control even if it’s not for you and see how you feel. That part is crucial. Do something positive and proactive. Maybe as a player you show some gratitude to your parents, coaches, and teachers for once. And mean it.

Maybe for coaches, you get the hell off social media for a week and make your own training plans or rewrite your philosophy of coaching without trying to appease the masses and con them into thinking you’re someone you’re not.

Whatever it is, start with having one good day. Plan out a few things you want to accomplish. Be intentional. This may start as getting a good workout in. Then build on that progress with getting proper nutrition, hydration, and sleep. Then build on that with limiting the time you engage with people and things that bring you down (log off Twitter for a day). Read a book you’ve been putting off…watch a movie…but have one good day.

Then decide that’s what you do from here on out. Take ownership of having a good day. Plan it and execute it to the best of your ability. This isn’t easy.

Run the hills. This is the last point. Run the hills. Literally, if you’re a player, sure, do some hill runs. Learn to embrace that struggle. But this is more than running. Running the hill is understanding that the struggle is always present. You can walk the hills when you’re exhausted. But if you have the energy and power, approach the battles and obstacles with a sense of purpose. Run them. Sure it may be a bit uncomfortable, but you’ll be running the day and it won’t be running you.

In closing, taking ownership of your development means a lot of different things to everyone. The reality here is there is always enough valid blame to go around. This message should be beyond that blame-game. If you can control something, take ownership of it. If you have no control over the situation, take ownership in how you react or handle that situation.

Published by Jon Townsend

Jon is a long-serving writer for These Football Times and the Original Coach and is the author of the upcoming book "It's Just a Ball: Exploring the Complexities of a Simple Game". Jon is a supporter of Liverpool Football Club and AFC Ajax. Based in the U.S., Jon is involved in promoting grassroots football and specializes in player development writing and coaching. He is the co-founder of Year Zero Soccer, a non-profit grassroots football organization that is partnered with TFT. His work has been featured on the Guardian Sport Network, Inside Soccer, NSCAA Soccer Journal, White Lines Magazine, and Spartan Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @jon_townsend3

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