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Take Responsibility: Gain Power

Basketball is Psychology XXXIII


Twenty years ago, UConn Head Coach Geno Auriemma called his shy freshman point guard, into his office. They had a quick meeting, and his message to Sue was clear; it’s your fault.

He told her, “Anything bad that happens, it’s your fault.”

“What? What does that mean?” Sue Bird responded.

Geno continued, “It doesn’t matter, I don’t care if you turn it over or she turns it over, it’s always going to be your fault.”

After that meeting, Sue understood she had to take responsibility for everything.

Sue Bird is one of the greatest point guards and leaders the game of basketball has ever seen. She’s won multiple NCAA Championships, FIBA World Cups, Olympic Gold Medals, and WNBA Championships. Perhaps that meeting is why.

Responsibility, Accountability and Blame

Responsibility is done voluntarily, it’s done by you, and you can take as much or as little of it as you want to.

Accountability is done to you by someone else; usually when you have not taken enough responsibility.

Responsibility is your ability to respond.

Blame is the opposite of responsibility.

When you take responsibility, you have the power.

When you blame, you give away your power.

Blaming is easy, but tough players take responsibility.

When we blame, we are saying ‘I played no role in this problem’. By thinking we aren’t part of the problem, we also exclude ourselves from being part of the solution.

Owning the part you played in what’s happening does not mean you are a doormat and people can blame you for everything; it means you are mature, it means you want to improve, even if that means looking bad.

Responsibility leads to action.

Blame never leads to action.

When you take responsibility for your actions, you can then make the change and improve. If you refuse to accept responsibility and blame, it’s impossible to get better.

Responsibility looks in the mirror and asks, “What can I do better? How can I fix this?” Because responsibility is your ability to respond.

Blame says, “It’s not my fault and there’s nothing I can do about it.” Blaming takes away your ability to respond.

For example, let’s say one of your teammates is a terrible passer. You can ask your teammate for better passes but that’s about it. Seems pretty out of your control right?

This video of Trae Young practicing shooting off of bad passes went viral last summer. This embodies taking responsibility. The beauty of taking responsibility is that you always have the belief that you can be better and make a difference.

Notice how empowered you feel when you take responsibility. That empowerment compels you to take action, learn, and get better. The learning curve for people who take responsibility is exponential.

Notice how disempowered you feel when you blame. Blaming makes you feel completely helpless. You feel like you can’t take any action and you get stuck. The learning curve for people who blame is flat. You can’t improve if you’re never wrong.

Let’s try this out.

For example:

“I deserve more playing time.” Feel out that thought. This is placing the blame on your coach.

Now try this:

“I am responsible to do what it takes to earn more playing time.” Feel that thought out. This phrase implies that you have the power to make something happen.

When you tried out the blameful thought, you probably felt pretty helpless; you gave all your power away. You probably felt empowered when you were thinking “I am responsible…” The problem did not change, you still want playing time. The difference was when you look for how you are responsible, you have the ability to respond. When you are a person of high ownership, you feel capable of anything because you have the power to make a change.

Action Step:

Take as much responsibility as possible this week.

When you do this, you become a great leader. What makes Sue Bird a great leader, is that Geno taught her to believe everything was her fault, so everyone wanted to follow her. Why? No one has to worry about being thrown under the bus. Her teammates know that even if they mess up big time, Sue isn’t going to say “It’s all your fault”, she’s going to say “It’s my fault, I need to be better”. It’s why she’s still in the WNBA at 38-years-old, still winning, and still getting better.

“I was wrong” doesn’t mean you’re a bad player, it means “I can fix it.”

“It’s not my fault” means “There’s nothing I can do about it.”

It’s okay to be wrong, in fact, it should be encouraged, because from there you can get better. Don’t shy away from admitting to your mistakes, be the first to admit it.

Steve Kerr said Tim Duncan was the same way, “He’d come into the locker room after a loss and he’d say, ‘My fault.’ and you’d look at the stats and he’s got 38 points and 24 rebounds. Pretty sure it wasn’t your fault, Tim.”

Take responsibility for everything. Add “My fault” to your vocabulary.

If your teammate is late, if someone gives you a bad pass, if your team loses, if your team has a bad practice, if the ref makes a bad call, if one of your teammates is having a bad day, make it your fault. This is how you always become part of the solution.

When you take responsibility for everything, you’ll also be a lot happier because it doesn’t matter if it’s raining or the gym is hot, or your opponents are better, you’re training your mind to never feel helpless, and to always focus on the ways you can make a difference.

Choosing to take responsibility is the most empowering way to think.


Written by Julie Fournier



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