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Team policies set expectations for player behavior

American Sport Education Program (ASEP)

When selecting your policies, consider the importance of each of these factors relative to your situation. For example, if you coach a team that travels often, you will need a detailed section on behavior on the road. If you coach a varsity team of 18- and 19-year-olds, you might need more detail on policies outlining the consequences of infractions than you would need if you coached a developmental team of 15-year-olds. Regardless of how many topics your policies cover, the most essential thing is to clearly spell out how your athletes (or others) are expected to conduct themselves and the consequences of failing to meet those expectations.

When an athlete or other person violates a rule, it is often because he or she is not fully aware of that rule, how the rule fits within the context of the policy, or the consequences of breaking the rule. Returning to the example at the beginning of this chapter-the gymnast who pleads ignorance after taking a banned substance contained in a weight control supplement-unless specifically told by the coach, trainer, or health professional, a young athlete might not be aware that she must check supplements for banned substances or even that common supplements can contain banned substances.

Having organized, well-written, and clearly explained policies is one way to prevent or reduce the chance that your athletes will break the rules. You might not be able to prevent all infractions, but you will be better equipped to deal with the consequences of infractions if your policies are clearly written and explained.

Areas to Cover in Team Policies

When selecting your team policies, it’s reasonable for you to ask what these should and should not cover. Again, the extent of your policies and rules will depend on your team philosophy, the age of your athletes, the level of competition, and how many people the policy covers. Keep in mind that team policies and rules specify the standards of acceptable and unacceptable behaviors and the responsibilities each member is expected to accept. Policies and rules prescribe the expectations and outcomes from team members and others involved, including coaches, athletes, support staff, volunteers, parents, spectators, and the media. So, it is essential to carefully plan and develop your team policies and rules.

We encourage you to develop team policies and rules that cover important aspects of behavior and organizational issues that might affect how your team functions. You cannot legislate every aspect of your athletes’ behavior, nor would you want to be responsible for enforcing such restrictions!

Consider the purpose of your team policies: to communicate to your athletes (and others involved) your team’s philosophy and how this philosophy should be reflected in attitude and behavior. Such consideration should lead you to identify the areas to cover in your team policies.

The Six Moral Values

To help you focus the scope of what your team policies should include, this book has been structured to reflect the six moral values developed by the Arizona Sport Summit Accord in 1999. The six moral values are as follows:

  • Respectfulness
  • Responsibility
  • Caring
  • Honesty
  • Fairness
  • Good citizenship


These moral values encourage character development through sport and have been endorsed by many sport organizations.

Character can be described as the type of person you are, what you stand for, and your tendency to do the right thing. Character is revealed by how you behave when no one is watching or when you do not expect to be rewarded; it includes the types of judgments you make, how you interact with others, and how you put into action your personal philosophy.

We generally associate good character with behavior that is kind, trustworthy, honest, faithful, and responsible. Sportsmanship is said to represent good character for those involved in sport.

Most sport policies and codes of conduct (or behavior), whether for athletes, coaches, support staff, parents, or others involved in sport, incorporate these aspects of character. These six moral values are considered universal principles that allow us all to live and work productively in a civilized society. Let’s take a closer look at each of them.




Respect is enshrined in the golden rule: treating others as you wish to be treated by them. Respect applies to oneself as well as to others. Respectful athletes and coaches accept decisions by officials or superiors without arguing, avoid violence in and out of sport, act considerately toward all people, and seek to resolve differences without anger and insults.

Examples of respectful behavior in sport include using considerate language and nonverbal body language even when you are angry or disappointed, walking away from confrontation during a game, speaking respectfully (e.g., without sarcasm or profanity) even when you are provoked, accepting victory and defeat without disparaging your opponents, and accepting officials’ decisions without argument.


Responsibility involves perseverance and doing the right thing. Responsible athletes and coaches are reliable, self-disciplined, and considerate; they do not act impulsively without first considering the consequences of their actions.

Examples of responsible behavior in sport include always trying your hardest, even against a much better opponent or when the outcome doesn’t matter; showing up regularly for practice, even when you are preoccupied or don’t feel like training; letting the coach and team know if an emergency prevents you from attending practice; and accepting responsibility for actions that lead to unexpected consequences.


Being caring involves compassion, gratitude, and empathy (the ability to experience the feelings of others). It might sometimes seem incongruous that you are supposed to be caring while also trying your hardest to win. But you can be both highly competitive and caring at the same time. Athletes and coaches who are caring are gracious in both victory and defeat; they readily acknowledge the contributions of others to their success. Caring athletes play for their team rather than just for themselves. Caring also involves promoting the health and safety of everyone involved in sport, particularly athletes.

Examples of caring behavior in sport involve complimenting your opponent’s efforts, win or lose; thanking your teammates, coaches, and supporters after a game; encouraging an injured teammate; and helping an opponent up after a fall or tackle. For example, the coaches of the 2003 Rugby Union World Cup finalists, Australia and England, openly praised each other’s accomplishments in the week before the final match. Such behavior is not uncommon among effective and successful coaches.


Honesty involves being truthful and forthright (i.e., not hiding important information) and acting with integrity and loyalty. Athletes and coaches show their honesty by speaking and acting consistently and by always doing the right thing. The motives and actions of honest coaches and athletes are rarely questioned because their actions are backed up by a personal sense of integrity.

Examples of honest behavior in sport include being a team player (loyalty), dealing honestly and openly with other athletes and coaches (honesty, loyalty), and playing fairly within the spirit and rules of the game (honesty).


Fairness-playing by the rules and the spirit of the game whether you are winning or losing-is one of the key elements of sportsmanship. Athletes and coaches are often under enormous pressure to be successful, sometimes with huge financial rewards and incentives. Such pressure often seems inconsistent with fairness; sometimes playing fairly means losing the point or even the game.

Athletes and coaches who play fairly will always play by the rules, regardless of how doing so affects the outcome of the game. Athletes and coaches display a sense of fairness by not taking unfair advantage by bending or circumventing the rules. Occasionally, you see tennis players correct a line judge’s call for a ball that hits the baseline, although it means he or she loses the point. Fairness can also be applied to criteria for determining awards or playing time.

Good Citizenship

Perhaps the hardest to define because it encompasses attitudes and behavior outside of sport, good citizenship involves contributing positively to your community, whether local, regional, or national. Athletes and coaches who are good citizens proudly represent their country in an international competition, volunteer their time and effort to worthwhile causes, follow the law, and act as positive role models. The media readily report behavior-both good and bad-of high-profile athletes and coaches, who must recognize how their actions influence young people. Many high school athletes are active in community and charity events and are well known in their communities.

Conflict Resolution

So far, we have discussed how team policies will help you manage your team and how to develop your policies.Sometimes, though, conflicts can arise even with the best of intentions and clear policies supported by good management. Conflict is part of the complexity of human behavior and cannot be completely avoided. However, having within your policies a means to address conflicts will make it easier to solve them and to minimize distractions when conflicts arise. Let’s discuss how you can include a process for conflict resolution within your policies.

As we have said, disagreements and conflict arise even with the best policies and consistent enforcement of rules. If handled well, conflict is not always a bad thing, as it helps clarify boundaries and expectations. To be fair and effective, your policies should include some mechanism for athletes to question a decision, and for them to be heard in a fair and objective process. This is especially important if you are coaching teenagers; a common complaint among this age group is that adults do not listen to them or consult them when making important decisions.

Policies on conflict resolution clarify the process through which an athlete or others can question a decision or express a grievance. This process usually involves a hearing before a discipline or grievance committee. The committee should be objective and represent the entire team or organization; a player representative can be a member of the grievance or discipline committee.

Above all, it is important to ensure due process-the legal procedure that guarantees an individual’s rights are protected-at every step. Not adhering to due process can cause several undesirable effects, such as giving the impression that your decision making is unfair or arbitrary, confusing your athletes because they cannot see how you make certain decisions, alienating your athletes or making them feel powerless, and leaving you and your school open to legal action by the aggrieved player.

Let’s now discuss areas that you probably won’t need to cover in your policies.

Areas Not to Cover in Team Policies

You might be relieved to know that your team policies do not have to cover every aspect of your athletes’ and staff’s behavior. In fact, team policies should cover only those aspects of behavior that directly affect the athletes’ and others’ participation on your team. Areas outside of sport or not directly relevant to participation on the team are difficult, and often inappropriate, to include in team policies. Here are some areas that we suggest you leave out when developing your team policies:

Personal relationships. Policies should not restrict whom your athletes or staff associate with, provided there is no conflict of interest or illegal activity. You might think an athlete is associating with the wrong crowd, but you can create many problems by making rules or exerting pressure to force him or her to abandon a friendship. As long as the behavior is legal and does not directly influence participation on your team, you need not try to police it.
Interests outside of sport and during the off-season. Policies should restrict outside interests only if they directly affect the athlete’s participation on the team. For example, it would be fair to ban your athletes from high-risk sports during the season for fear of injury or because they might affect their ability to train. However, it might prove impossible to enforce such a ban during the off-season.
Personal beliefs and choices. Policies restricting athletes from pursuing a particular hobby, lifestyle, personal philosophy, or religious belief violate their rights and are likely to alienate your athletes. Moreover, in some situations, making decisions about an athlete or treating him or her differently because of a personal belief or lifestyle choice can be construed as harassment or discrimination.

The Code of Conduct

A code of conduct, sometimes called a code of ethics or code of behavior, is a document that clarifies how people associated with your team are expected to behave and their duties and responsibilities. A code of conduct will be an integral part of your team policies. This document gives life to your policies in that it translates those policies into the practical terms of everyday behavior. The code of conduct should be a list of the most important rules that indicate the attitudes and behavior expected of your athletes or others involved in sport.

A general code of conduct can be contained in a single document to cover all people involved with the team (athletes, coaches, support staff, parents, and so on.) You can list the expectations for each group in separate sections for each role. Another approach, taken by many teams these days, is to develop separate codes of conduct for each role, in particular for athletes, coaches, parents, and support staff.

A code of conduct can be viewed as a contract or agreement between the team and the person whom it applies to. Many teams now require their athletes, staff, parents, and others involved to sign a statement indicating that they have read and understood the relevant code of behavior or conduct. A signed statement serves as a record that the policy was explained, that they understand the code of conduct, and that they agree to act as required. Having them
sign the code of behavior also emphasizes how important you and the team view the code.


This is an excerpt from Coaches Guide to Team Policies.




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