The New England Patriots are the sports dynasty of our era. The Patriots are the first franchise in NFL history to reach nine Super Bowls. The combination of Bill Belichik and Tom Brady has led the team to seven of those in the last 16 years. Dominate. One phrase has marked the Patriots organization during that time – “Do Your Job.” Clear and simple, yet powerful. The impact of everyone on the team owning their role is evident in the Patriot’s results. Legendary.
Belichik calls it doing your job. I call it owning your role. But really it’s semantics.
An Army Concept
In my experience training military leaders and Soldiers, I learned this principle in a combat context.
The military calls it “sectors of fire.” A squad of Soldiers secures a perimeter by dividing up the directions from which potential threats may attack. Think of it like a clock face.
One man is responsible for anything in the area from 10 to 2 on the clock face. Another from 2 to 4 and so on. Every Soldier has his areas of responsibility.
The strength of the squad is each Soldier’s responsibility to do his job, by being vigilant in his direction. Each must cover his or her sector of fire.
What Does It Mean to Own Your Role?
Coaches want players who are disciplined and accountable. You want athletes with character and integrity. Teaching players to simply own their roles is a great place to begin.
Before you can preach a mantra of “Own Your Role,” you have to define what it means to you and your program.
Here is how I describe what it means to Own Your Role.
To Own Your Role means to…
1. Take Responsibility for Mistakes.
Urban Meyer shares a story about Cordell Jones taking responsibility. J.T. Barrett was injured and unable to play against a formidable Wisconsin team in the Big 10 title game.
It was Jones’ first start for the Buckeyes. Urban had confidence in his abilities but questioned his maturity. Cordell had been prone to make excuses when he didn’t perform well.
On his second drive of the game, Jones threw the ball high over the middle (something the coaches had explicitly warned against) and Wisconsin picked it off.
To Meyer’s surprise, Cordell trotted straight to him as he came off the field. He told his coach, “That’s my fault. I never should have thrown that pass. It won’t happen again.”
That is exactly what it means to take responsibility for mistakes. No excuses. No complaining. Just ownership.
2. Show Initiative to Get Better Everyday.
Owning your role means constantly looking for ways to improve. Being coachable. Studying yours and your opponent’s game film. It means looking for an edge at every opportunity. It means working hard to win your matchup, hone your skills, and expand your expertise.
3. Do Your Job on Every Play.
Winning is a result of one side executing better than the other. Vince Lombardi taught us that Xs and Os don’t mean much without a high level of execution.
Maintaining discipline to flawlessly execute your job is paramount. If an offensive lineman doesn’t seal the end, the running back can’t get to the outside. If the shortstop doesn’t cover second base on a ground ball to the second baseman, there is no chance for a double play.
The same is true for a swimming relay, volleyball team, or tennis doubles combo.
Every player must do what only they can do on every play. Doing so builds trust across your team.
4. Respect Your Coaches, Teammates, & Organization.
Tom Brady was recently asked how he and Bill Belichik have maintained such a good relationship, Brady simply said, “He is the coach and I am the player.”
Owning your role means that everyone in the organization knows what their job is and what it isn’t.
Players and coaches alike also know that it is each individual’s job to uphold the standards of the team both on and off the field.
When I see players getting suspended for illegal or performance enhancing substances, it’s clear they aren’t owning their roles.
5. Trust Your Teammates to Own Theirs.
When each player owns her own role she is trusting her teammates to own theirs.
This is part of the beauty of owning your role. If you’re owning yours, you aren’t worried about, preoccupied with, or diluting your attention to anyone else’s.
Owning your role means focusing on only what you can control and letting your teammates do the same.
To help you encourage your athletes to Own Your Role, I created this free poster you can use as a handout or hang in your locker room. It’s titled, 5 Principles to Help You Own Your Role.
Teach Athletes to “Own Your Role”
A coach’s challenge is to get his players to flawlessly execute their jobs when it counts. And do it over and over. A great starting point is to teach them what it means to Own Your Role. Use these five descriptors as a guide.