Coaches are regularly challenged when it comes to decisions around team initiation rituals commonly experienced in sports. The same team practice might appear to be a fun and harmless by one coach, but viewed as a potentially dangerous, hazing situation by another.
This sport psychology coaching issue is actually quite complex when you think about it – how coaches perceive the difference between a safe team ritual versus dangerous hazing actually cuts across more than just physical pain and danger, but also includes moral, legal, and emotional layers of consideration.
Assuming for this discussion that all coaches would immediately stop any practices they observed to be obviously unsafe, how might you interpret the following, seemingly harmless example?
A team requires that every new teammate walk through school wearing a controversial t-shirt. While wearing the t-shirt he is not expected to complete any physical feats, nor be subject to whipping or paddling. On the surface, this team requirement may seem to be relatively safe – but there are more things to consider before arriving at this opinion. Not knowing the controversial t-shirt message, this ritual could quickly lead to a slew of future problems:
- The t-shirt might be offensive to someone, leading to a physical altercation
- The t-shirt might lead to a school suspension, expulsion, or even arrest
- The t-shirt might lead to embarrassment and humiliation, leading to future anxiety and mood conditions
There is a grey area that exists between seemingly fun team traditions versus less obvious acts of hazing. While practices involving whipping, branding, and other painful physical acts would be seen by most coaches as dangerous hazing, other less dramatic and painful acts might not be seen as dangerous. Subtle acts of intimidation, humiliation, and embarrassment are examples of less obvious hazing practices, but equally as dangerous.
Ideas for safe team building rituals
Hazing can lead to injuries, arrests, lawsuits, and in worst case scenarios, death. Take time out to learn about what kids are doing as means of team building, and step in where it seems as though it could be physically or emotionally damaging. Remember, just because the activity looks safe from a physical danger perspective, there are always more subtle emotional concerns to think about. Also keep in mind that group dynamics and pressure often prompt kids to follow through on hazing practices, even against their better interest.
Below are a few ideas to consider when helping kids develop safe, fun, team bonding activities rather than dangerous hazing:
- Video game competitions
- Swim parties
- Ropes course
- Movie night
- Team dinners
- Amusement park trips
- Attending a college or pro game as a team
For more information on this subject, check out Tough Topics, Practical Solutions, a 2-DVD set that explores responsible sports boundaries and hazing.