Nov 3, 2017
On the Same Page
Dr. David Hoch

In most aspects of life — as a teacher, a coach, a citizen — there are rules in place to guide our actions and behavior. And it is quite common for coaches to also prepare and issue team rules for their athletes.

Team rules outline the expectations for the athletes on the team, and they are also an important step in helping parents understand how your team operates and the standards to which their child will be held. Creating and communicating good team rules before the season starts can greatly reduce problems and misunderstandings during the season.

Since well-crafted team rules are important, the following are a few ideas for planning your own document. Use these tips as a starting point and create rules that fit your team and circumstances.

Ask others. Find fellow coaches you trust (from your sport and others) and ask for a copy of their team rules. Make note of the ones you like and those you think would apply to your team and setting. These good examples can serve as the basis for your guidelines.

Get athlete input. Consider giving your captains the opportunity to share their ideas as to what rules should be included. While you still have the final say and responsibility, allowing for input generally promotes better acceptance by the team.

Find an editor. Write your rules clearly and in the most concise manner possible. Work to eliminate any potential confusion. Once you are done writing, have one or more individuals (a teacher, another coach, or your spouse) read your draft. Allow them to offer suggestions to improve your document.

Carefully consider penalties. Think through whether or not to attach consequences to your rules. You want your rules to be taken seriously, but when you put penalties in writing, you eliminate the possibility of weighing individual situations and extenuating circumstances. It’s important to be able to assess whether the penalty fits the crime. Another option is to state your rules and then conclude with, “Offenses will be dealt with after reviewing all factors and in the best interest of the athlete and the team.” This gives you a little wiggle room, but still indicates that action will be taken if the rules are broken.

Copy your athletic director. Don’t forget to give your new team rules to your athletic director for his or her approval. He or she should review them, edit, and make suggestions so that they are in line with the school’s mission and policies. This step is important, because your athletic director has to be able to support your rules if someone challenges them.

Review them annually. Reconsider your team rules after each season and make adjustments for next season. Ask yourself what worked well and what needs to be tweaked. Be sure to take into consideration changes that have occurred with respect to technology, league and state standards, and administrative expectations.

Give your team a heads-up. Is there a situation on the horizon that may challenge your players? Be proactive and remind them of the rules ahead of time. The purpose of your team rules is to provide a basis for accountability and to help your players grow, not simply to catch and punish offenders. Using missteps as teachable moments is an important part of an education-based program.

Carefully considered and well written team rules provide guidance and direction for a team. Invest time and effort developing the best set you can. The end result will be a disciplined, unified team.

David Hoch retired in 2010 after a 41-year career as a high school athletic director and coach. In 2009, Dr. Hoch was honored as the Eastern District Athletic Director of the Year by the National Association for Sport and Physical Education. He was also presented with the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association Distinguished Service Award, and in 2000 he was named the Maryland State Athletic Director Association's Athletic Director of the Year. Dr. Hoch has authored over 460 professional articles and made more than 70 presentations around the country.

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