Who Is Responsible for This?
“Who is responsible for this?” You can probably remember the sinking feeling you had as a kid when someone in charge – your parent, or a teacher, maybe – uttered those words. Something had happened. Maybe a practical joke gone wrong, maybe some inadvertent mistake by some unknowing soul, maybe a poor choice that led to disaster. Whatever it was, before anybody was moving on, someone had to accept responsibility. You could usually hear a pin drop…no one was willingly taking that bullet.
Taking the bullet is tough. In sports, errors and failures are part of the experience. The best players in the world swing and miss, fumble away the ball, and miss easy shots. Even those guys make silly mistakes – it’s a part of the game. And when things go wrong, no one likes to take the blame. But believe it or not, learning to accept blame is a skill that a champion athlete has to develop in order to really reach his full potential. That’s because a champion athlete doesn’t skirt responsibility; he accepts it.
There are two kinds of athletes: those strong-minded and those weak-minded. We’re here, aren’t we, to help our sons work toward becoming the former? When things go wrong, the strong-minded athlete usually doesn’t care too much about blaming someone. He doesn’t even care too much if he’s the one to blame. If he’s truly driven to succeed, he probably doesn’t spend his time dwelling on what’s already happened, either good or bad. He is more focused on the next play than he is on the last one. Does this describes your boy? Does he have that resilient mindset? I hope so, but if he does, then he’s in the minority. Most of his teammates won’t be so strong.
The weak-minded athlete is more common. He’s insecure. He feels easily defined by his failure, which often makes his confidence shaky and his mindset defensive. That’s why he has such a hard time moving on to the next play, especially if someone’s messed something up. The mentally strong athlete usually doesn’t need to issue blame in order to move on in his pursuit of winning, but the mentally weak one does.
It takes a confident, secure, tough-minded athlete to willingly accept his share of the blame when something goes wrong. This athlete has probably come to some important understandings of the truth. First, he understands that he’s not defined by some mistake or failure - they are a part of the game, and he can handle that. Second, he understands that a mistake rarely costs a team or player – usually it’s that team or player’s inability to move past a mistake that really costs them. Champion athletes can move on quickly and focus on what’s controllable, and what’s most important: the present moment. Third, he understands the value of this skill – accepting blame – as a way to help his weaker-minded teammates do what they can’t on their own – to move on, too – and in the process to help his team in its pursuit of success.
Ultimately, a champion athlete’s strength and confidence allow him to accept the blame that’s due him, and then lay it down and move on from the burden that comes with making a mistake. Beyond that, a champion will probably find that he’s capable of even accepting some blame that doesn’t belong to him – that rightfully should land on the shoulders of other fragile, weak-minded teammates – because he knows he’s strong enough to handle it…and they aren’t. The champion athlete wants to win, and if that means taking on the burden of responsibility so that others can move on and work with him toward that end, then he’ll willingly take the bullet.
Now don’t get me wrong: your son doesn’t need to take every bullet out there. There may be times when it’s necessary for him to dispute someone’s accusation of blame. Other times, he might be outside a dispute and will need to successfully support someone else who’s to blame. Your son doesn’t have to take the blame every time. But if he’s secure and confident enough to accept the blame he’s due, and occasionally accept even some unfair blame, too? Then he’s a teammate who’ll bring value to those around him. And if he can’t take any of the blame, any of the time? Then he’s mentally weak, fragile, and insecure. And if that’s the case, you and he can both kiss reaching his full potential goodbye.
No doubt, there is great value in becoming an athlete who’s strong and confident enough to say the words, “my fault.” When something goes wrong, to be able to step up and say, “I am responsible.” Then, once spoken, to move on with a commitment to making it right. These players make up great teams - teams that overcome adversity, play in the present moment, and win often because of it. They are made up of individuals who not only accept their share of the burden, but even willingly take the burden off each other.
Your son can develop this skill – learning to accept responsibility. It’s a talent, really, for any teammate to possess. It will help him as an athlete. But, more importantly, consider for a minute how using your son’s experience in sports to develop this skill might change the man he becomes for life.
What kind of a husband, for instance, will your son be if he can accept his share of the blame when things go wrong, and maybe even be strong enough to occasionally, willingly accept even some of the blame that should belong to his wife? Conversely, what kind of a husband will he be if he can never accept any responsibility for anything that goes wrong in his marriage? If it’s always his wife’s fault? If you help him develop this valuable skill, how might it change the kind of father he becomes? Or the kind of employee? Or the kind of friend? It seems to me, if we’re talking about helping our sons reach their full potential in this world, both as an athlete and as a man, then teaching them how to accept responsibility is of paramount importance.
So how do I teach my son how to accept blame? As is always the case, my words will be important. It’s my job to help him understand the value of accepting responsibility, the truth about his identity, and the role mistakes or failures play in shaping it. But more important than my words, of course, will be the example I set with my actions. I can talk all day about the importance of being a teammate, but if my son never sees me accept responsibility for what happens in my life, then my words will be empty. If I’m weak-minded, insecure, and defensive, I’ll probably help show my son how to become weak-minded, insecure, and defensive, too.
When you fall short – as a husband, a father, an employee, or a friend – you have to show your son how to say, “I am responsible.” Then, just as importantly, you have to show him how to move on with a commitment to making it right. If you can accept responsibility in your life, then you’re more likely to help your son learn how to do the same, and in the process to move closer to his full potential. Who knows…maybe one day someone will look at the champion of an athlete and man you’ve raised and say, “Man, this kid is strong, confident, and secure. Who is responsible for this?” There will be no pin drop. You’ll be able to proudly acknowledge, “I am.”
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