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Building an effective Code of Conduct

With travel ball you have a choice between what program you want to be a part of, but with rec it’s often whatever is in your town. Without the ability to shop around, and little enforcement of principles as volunteer turnover shakes things up every season, it’s no wonder many people are leaving rec to participate in private programs.

Are we doing enough in our youth athletic organizations to promote a positive and growth friendly atmosphere? After my daughter’s rec game this weekend, a grandmother of a player on the opposing team charged me with her fists flying. This was definitely a first for me, but I don’t think it’s a secret to anyone that things are out of hand.

Many organizations are jumping on board with background checks for coaching and admins, and even requiring US lacrosse certified coaches and officials- which is a great step in the right direction. But even with these safeguards in place, the yelling from fans, player conduct, and coaching tactics at games are still a long way from where we need to be.

When working with volunteers, who we many times have to beg to come out and coach or dealing with parents who are paying for their kid’s participation in youth programs, there is a line many associations are hesitant to cross in enforcing conduct. But enforcing conduct will bring out better volunteers, make for a better experience for our kids and should in fact raise enrollment and participation, even if numbers go down briefly.

How often does the association go out and monitor a practice or stand at the bench at games? Is there anyone handing out copies of the most misunderstood rules to parents in the bleachers, or rosters for cheering kids by name? We don’t hesitate to kick out someone who crosses the line, but what about the undertones that are not quite enough to get a bench card but are hurting the program and the atmosphere, is there a code of conduct and mission statement for parents in the organization? Are we sticking to it and committed to seeing it through without exception?

Just like sports participation for our athletes is a privilege and should be heralded as such, coaching the team is a service position and privilege, and spectating at our kids games is a privilege and a responsibility. Admins who enforce a code of conduct for all involved will be rewarded with a better program experience for everyone. When everyone knows what is expected then there are less fires to put out in the long run as participants settle into the way things are done in that program.

No Sir/Ma’am, we don’t do that here.

Things to consider when putting together a code of conduct for your organization or team:

  1. What is your team/organization philosophy? If you’re not sure, what are the three principles or qualities you would like people to associate your team/organization with?(fairness? Development? etc)
  2. Where exactly is the line? Is it clearly drawn at a place where a volunteer will be removed if they are not in line with the team/organization philosophies? Is there a warning system and structure in place to take care of it respectfully and fairly? Is the line too far away from your principles? How far gone do things have to get before you can take action?
  3. Are there opportunities for education? How about emails with tips, or coach trainings on how to use positive tactics to raise performance and proper practice structuring, or question and answer sessions with the local high school coaches or officials? Many volunteers are coaching the way they learned in high school football years ago – even if it’s 7 year old girls.
  4. Did the parent meeting at the beginning of the season clearly state what is tolerable on the side line and what is not? Do parents, coaches and kids get the opportunity to be a part of making these guidelines so they are vested in enforcing and living up to them?  When I sit on the parent side the biggest issue I over hear is confusion about what the calls are about and how the rules work. Invite an official to the parent meeting to answer rules questions and make parent handouts for games.
  5. Get creative, look for ways to promote the behavior you want modeled in your program with the goal of lowering the focusing on policing and raising the focus on creating a great space for kids, parents and coaches in the community.  Schools do this all the time with things like the 5 stars of learning excellence: 1. Readiness 2. Responsibility 3. Resourcefulness 4. Resilience 5.Reflectiveness  Come up with your own stars that fit your program.
  6. Use anonymous parent and player surveys after every season, get a real feel for what the total experience is for those involved in your program.  Make changes where needed, or add support and focus to things that are really being executed well.
  7. Do you feel like you are constantly begging for volunteers? Having participants who feel vested, valued and empowered with support and the right tools, will volunteer more readily than those being hounded or charged fees if they don’t help more. Co-ops are very successful because they buy into the value they are getting and it drives them to give back. Think about the times you felt overcharged for something that didn’t have value, did you want to help them back?
  8. Remember that everyone won’t be happy all the time, it’s not about pleasing everyone, but rather keeping a team and program moving in a positive direction at all times. The path will never be straight, but if it’s moving and it’s got a destination clearly defined for all those involved, then the experience will overall be a good one.

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