I like to help coach my daughter's basketball team. This is the third year, and it's been delightful to get to know the kids. Sometimes they seek me out. They come and stand beside me, look up, and smile and I say, "Good job."

I often wonder how many of them don't have a father figure in their lives to offer them a word of approval. A simple phrase like, "You sure played well today," is something that might provide spiritual nourishment for these kids for a long time.

The other coaches all played on high school and college teams, but not me. The only experience I have in basketball comes from playing street games in Peru. There was a team organized at the school where I used to work, and we'd ocasionally participate in tournaments and whatnot.

They recruited me because I was comparatively tall. The truth is that I'm a hair under six feet, but that's considered tall in Peru. I discovered basketball is a lot more fun when you're the tallest guy on the court. Everything was great until we showed up at the tournaments to face a bunch of guys who were much bigger than me.

So, I have experience with basketball, but not with all the practice drills that are common to teams. With the girls on my daughter's team I emphasize basic things like decision making and how to box out. I feel my perspective is useful because I'm not saddled with an expectation of what a team is "supposed" to look like. Instead, I see places that can be improved and I explain it to the kids. What I lack in knowledge I make up for in my ability to communicate.

Sometimes I translate what the coach says into language the kids can understand. Plus, I always encourage them and tell them they're doing well, maybe that's why they like me.

It's a joy, it really is.

Recently, the coach was setting up a drill. She turned to one of the girls and said, "Alice, go over and stand by Walter."

I was standing beneath a basket holding a ball. Alice came trotting over. She smiled, and held up her hands.

When you're holding a basketball and a little kid calls for it by holding up her hands, you make the pass (at least I do). I didn't even think about it. I tossed her the ball, Alice caught it, then we turned to listen to the further instructions of the coach.

It took the coach a few minutes to get the drill set up. This was a full court drill that involved a lot of passing. The coach went trotting to the other end of the court to get out of the way and glanced up at Alice.

"Alice!" she said with a hint of irritation in her voice. "Why are you holding a ball? Did I tell you to get a ball?"

Alice tensed in the way of vulnerable little kids. It was a combination of being scared and embarrassed, and seeing that made me feel terrible. Immediately, I spoke up.

"I'm sorry coach, that's my fault, I gave her the ball." Then I stepped forward and held up my hands for Alice to throw the ball back to me.

"Coach Walter…" muttered the coach. She was scolding me a little bit, but that didn't matter because Alice looked at me like I was a hero.

My daughter's basketball coach is very, very good, and we're lucky to have her. Honestly, I don't know how she finds the energy to perform the duties of a full time job, then dedicate her time in the evenings to coaching basketball for a couple hours. She's always patient and kind, but I also know that kids often place an enormous burden on themselves to meet the expectations of the adults in their lives.

When an adult signals disapproval, that can be absolutely devastating to a child.

Nobody likes to admit they are wrong, but it's especially hard for kids who haven't yet developed mechanisms to handle their own emotions.

It's also hard for adults to admit when they are wrong, and perhaps that's one of the fundamental problems with our society.

I personally take accountability very seriously, and I think it's most important to hold yourself accountable even when you're in a position of greater power.

My dad never once apologized to me. When I was very young, I resolved that I would make a point of apologizing to my children when I am wrong.

My children are the kindest people I've ever met, and they almost never misbehave. In part, I attribute this to the fact that I don't believe in corporal punishment. You don't hit kids. I don't even like to raise my voice.

The only time I raise my voice with my kids is if I feel they're in imminent danger. For example, if a ball rolls into the street and they're inclined to chase it, I'll yell, "Stop!"

Because it's unusual for me to raise my voice, it's actually effective.

But here's the key point: Even if I am justified in raising my voice, I still apologize afterward. "I'm sorry I yelled, I was afraid you were in danger and I wanted to get your attention."

I've written about this before and people will try and argue that there was no need for me to apologize. "Well, you were in the right because you were trying to save them so no apology is necessary."


A transgression is a transgression whether it was for the right reasons or not. The truth is, I am sorry for the need to yell. Yelling causes fear. If I'm responsible for putting fear into my daughters' hearts, then I feel sorry for that. "I'm glad you're okay, but I'm sorry I yelled."

It costs nothing to apologize. Why do some adults find it so hard?

The thing most people don't seem to recognize when they're discussing the concept of accountability is that one day your kids will come into their power.

One day the powerless children you interact with today will become adults. When that day comes, you might recognize the benefit of modeling accountability even when there is no greater power compelling you to do so.

If you don't take it upon yourself to model accountability when you're the one with power, it will be too late.

At this point, I should make the honest admission that it's not easy. I have to compel myself to be accountable every single time. Even as a 50 year old man who has made accountability part of my personal philosophy, I felt a tug of resistance to saying anything when the coach turned to criticize Alice.

It's so easy to remain silent and let somebody else be the target of derision.

But in the flicker of a moment, I saw Alice tense, and I felt a need to protect her that overrode my own sense of personal pride. I think we're all looking for moments to be decent human beings. People sit around and fantasize about being a hero. The truth is, you don't have to stop a mass shooter to be a hero, all you have to do is force yourself to be accountable for your mistakes.

Just do that. Most people don't.

When I spoke up, I felt the pressure instantly shift from little Alice to me. I also felt her relief. I felt it like it was a physical thing. She radiated gratitude.

I don't know if Alice is one of the kids on the team that doesn't have a father figure in her life, but now she knows what it feels like to have somebody stand up for her.

It might seem like a small thing, but it's not. In that moment, my accountability meant the world to that little girl.

It's easy to stand silently and watch others take the fall. Everyone is flawed. We're constantly duped by charlatans who are adept at finding scapegoats. Instead, we need to cultivate a sense of respect for those who demonstrate the courage to shoulder their own blame.