We often confuse being responsible for something with being accountable for it. It is easy to say, “I am sorry”, and thinking things get fixed, but unfortunately that is not how life works. Well it can work that way, but you will leave a long list of people who you have hurt along the way. It is important to understand that as human beings we all make mistakes. It is also important to understand we have the power to fix our mistakes.
For me, the opportunity to teach that lesson to my boys came into focus with sports. If you play any sport, you will make mistakes. If you play team sports, you learn how your performance not only affects you, but it also affects your teammates. It quickly teaches you how to be accountable for your actions. A mantra quickly evolved in my conversation with my boys about their performance, “If you make a mistake, fix it.”
Kids as well as adults, are usually temporarily paralyzed when they make a mistake. There is guilt from feeling responsible and the mistake shakes your self-esteem. On the pitch, the basketball court or the football field the boys make a lot of mistakes, as expected, and they used have that moment of paralyzation and helplessness. During our post game conversation we would always go back to “If you make a mistake, you don’t stop playing, you fix it.” Soon it evolved to “If you make a mistake, you fix it.”
The mantra sounds simple, but it takes discipline and dedication to be truly helpful. Soon, when they lost a ball on the soccer pitch, they were fighting to get it back. If they missed a shot on the basketball court, they fought for the rebound or played harder defense. Slowly, it became an instantaneous reaction and now, a reflex most of the time. There are still times they get frustrated because they feel they have failed; however, I continue to reinforce that making a mistake is not a failure, giving up trying to correct it, is.
The mantra soon found its way to homework and schoolwork. Let’s just say my oldest is a surfer dude at heart and his memory can be as solid as Swiss cheese some days. He can be brilliant one moment getting a perfect score and the next he will completely flunk a test. He can even forget to hand in an assignment he has already completed. At first, my patience was pushed to the limit. Quickly, I found myself employing the “If you make a mistake, you fix it” mantra with school. Instead of getting worked up about his fluctuating schoolwork performance, I made sure he fixed it. There were days when I would have to send him back into the school multiple times to find a teacher to talk to, hand in an assignment, or get the his makeup work. There were days we were there for more than 30 minutes past pickup time; however, as the year wore on, he became more accountable.
Sports have helped me explain this complex and important concept to them and for them to use it in all aspects of their life. In life, as in sports, they will make many mistakes; those mistakes are not a reflection on who they are, but on our flawed human nature. They understand that they are not a failure but have only made a mistake. More importantly, I am able to teach them that if you make a mistake, it is not only about apologizing, but also about making amends and fixing it. That is what being accountable is all about. We often forget the steps of making amends and in my opinion that is the most important part of being accountable.
The old saying says: “To err is human” but so is the capacity of fixing those mistakes.