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It seems like every football season some high school program finds itself splattered on every major sports media outlet for a hazing incident. In these episodes, students are injured physically and/or psychologically. In some cases, coaches lose their jobs. In some cases, the school board votes to shut down the program for the rest of the year. In most hazing cases we read about on the national scene, lives are forever changed.
Coaches have a responsibility to address and stop hazing. Each program does this differently. No matter what your district does in terms of addressing hazing, make sure that you, the coach, are proactive. The last thing that you need to deal with in your football program is a culture of hazing. It simply never ends well.
Here are 3 steps to help haze proof your locker room.1. Be proactive
Being proactive means taking practice or meeting time to discuss hazing with your team so that they know you are not OK with hazing. Failure to discuss hazing with your team could harm you later should there be a case of hazing. People will ask your team if your coach ever told the team not to participate in hazing. If your players say "No, my coach never told us not to haze," that won't sit good for you if there is any sort of investigation.
Coaches should define hazing with their teams before their season starts. This should happen every year. Explain to your program what hazing is. Here is a good definition that I've used for a while: "The practice of rituals, challenges, bullying, or other activities involving harassment, abuse or humiliation used as a way of initiating or welcoming a person into a group."
Let your players know what the consequences of participating in hazing type of behavior will result in. Will you punish players who haze others? If you have a team handbook of rules, make sure to include your hazing policy. 2. Be present
Most hazing happens when the coaching staff is absent. In the hazing cases that cause coaches to be fired, when kids assault one another in a variety of forms and fashions, coaches are almost always found guilty of failing to supervise their team. (In some rare cases, a coach is actually watching and or encouraging physical hazing.)
Being present means that a member or members of the coaching staff are supervising the locker room. Supervision means that the coaching staff is able to both see and hear what is going on in the locker room. Some facilities are built very well for this to happen, some are not. The design of your facility can't be used as an excuse not to provide proper supervision for your team. It is a common expectation that educators supervise their students; this also applies to coaches and athletes. In most states, it is built right in to the Educational Code.
I advise sitting down with your staff to create a supervision calendar. Who is responsible for supervising the locker room on this date, or for this week? One way that I did this as a head coach was sitting down with our staff at our July meeting, and literally putting this right on our training camp installation calendar. Each coach would take one week that he was responsible for the supervision of the locker room, unlocking the door, and being the last to leave.3. Be player-centered
If your program is player-centered, you will care about hazing. If coaches are in touch with their players, they will know what is going on away from their field and locker room.
Coaches need to be approachable so that kids feel safe talking to their coach if they are being hazed. Being player centered means that player health and safety is at the core of your values. Talking about this over and over will help to build a haze-proof culture. When players know that the coaching staff cares about their health and well-being, they will know and understand that hazing simply doesn't fit as a part of their culture.Chris Fore is a veteran Head Football Coach and Athletic Director from Southern California. He consults coaches and programs nationwide through his business Eight Laces Consulting.