The Culture of Team Sports Dec 6, 2013

By Tom Curry

Whether paid or volunteer, coaches must pay attention to what is going on before and after practices, on the internet or even with opponents. Ongoing discussions between coaches, parents and players must always include reminders of positive words, actions and possible consequences for inappropriate behavior.

Recently, the Miami Dolphins and the NFL came under sharp criticism and the media microscope for incidents involving two Miami players. Which side you fell on in the debate may have a lot to do with what you experienced as a player on your youth or school sports team. Most reasonable people would not support the alleged boorish and outlandish behavior. For me, I would also say that I cannot understand anyone who would condone the actions of Rich Incognito. As other information comes to light, it will be interesting to see the reactions of the team and the rest of the NFL. Will teams need to enhance monitoring of the interactions of the players? Is that now necessary for "adults" involved in team sports at that level? Who is responsible in the long run for that alleged behavior happening on any team? I won't join the debate on what happened, or who was at fault. That is not for this article or magazine. However, I believe everyone involved with youth sports can learn from the alleged incidents that may have occurred. Whether school or league administrator, youth or school coach, parent or child playing any sport, it's important to be aware of what is going on in and around the teams under your watch.

There are certain things that happen on teams or even harmless rituals that teams do that are in good fun and not meant to embarrass anyone. The line is crossed, though, when those same rituals are demeaning, threatening or not in the best interests of players and teams. It is essential that the adults supervising the kids on the team are aware of what goes on in the course of the day and over the long haul. It is also as important that parents are aware of what happens on teams, in locker rooms, fields, gyms and on the internet. In addition, some of the nonsense that goes on occurs via texts, Facebook, or "tweets" is way over any line. "Why didn't someone know? Where were the adults when this was going on?" The questions asked after the fact help little when asked that late. Parents, coaches and adults involved must involve themselves in discussing, modeling and, if necessary, intervening in the everyday team culture that exists on every team at every level. These discussions should be ongoing at meetings, practices and games.

Leaders Are Crucial At Any Age

Who are the leaders on your child's team? How do they lead? Would you want Eli or Peyton Manning as your team leader? Or would you want someone who is bent on establishing a poor team culture which allows intimidation, bullying, racism or violence? Sometimes these behaviors are not always visible to the coach. While not an excuse, everyone can recognize that kids sometimes hide things or may not be forthcoming with a problem. They don't want to be perceived as "tattle tales" so they may not let anyone know of issues that are the potential of a problem that could explode on a team or in a sports program. Youngsters who are captains or the leaders on a team can often set the tone for what happens on a day to day basis. There is the right way to lead and then there is the wrong way. The adults in charge of youth sports or school teams should discuss and set examples for the students or youth who are the leaders on teams. Whether paid or volunteer, coaches must pay attention to what is going on before and after practices, on the internet or even with opponents. Ongoing discussions between coaches, parents and players must always include reminders of positive words, actions and possible consequences for inappropriate behavior.

The young people that participate in athletics must see and set examples for positive team behavior and a strong culture that supports such behaviors must be the norm. "We don't do that here!" might be the words that you would hear coming from most players in locker rooms at the professional level on championship teams. On the college level, one only need look at how many teams and schools have adopted positive mantras and ideals for their teams and athletic programs. At the high school level, I am constantly amazed by students who heighten awareness of local problems and national health causes and how the student leaders organize benefit games that support Breast Cancer Awareness and the like. That's positive leadership any organization can be proud of! But even more important than working on those causes are the day to day leadership examples of those athletes that do lead by example. They are quite aware of how to lead, even at a young age. The culture they help establish is one for every team, school or organization emulate.

The Choice

I always ask our athletes if they choose to be leaders or followers. In my career as a coach and athletic director, I have been blessed to have had some incredible student leaders on the teams that I have coached. In many cases, these young men are now leaders in their chosen career paths. One young man is now a doctor. He was recently given a humanitarian award for his unselfish work as a doctor in helping underprivileged kids and adults in many different communities. It was not a surprise to me or any of his former teammates that he had been honored by the award at the young age of 35. He had been that kind of leader on one of our league championship teams. Not a particularly gifted player, his work ethic and efforts were second to none. He demanded great effort from his teammates at practices, games and even off the court. He set such a positive tone for everyone that you couldn't help but like and follow this kid. At the awards dinner when he received his honor, he credited his mother and his high school basketball coach (me) for helping him see the greater needs of people and what he could do to change things. I was humbled and proud. Thinking of him, his accomplishments and those of the many fine athletes I have coached and come in contact with in my career, makes me know that the choice is quite clear for everyone involved in athletics. Choose to lead! That is the best culture to establish and one that is far better to establish than any other one I can think of! Our future depends on having great leaders and their ability to motivate and lead us down a better road in the future!

Happy Holidays!

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