Six steps to stop hazing on your team
“We never meant for it to end up like this …”
“We all had too much to drink and no one was thinking clearly …”“The seniors initiated us when we were freshmen, so we were just keeping the tradition going …”
“We were just trying to build a sense of team …”
“They could have stopped at any time, we weren’t forcing them to do anything …”
“We would have never done it if we knew we could lose our season over this …”
These are the typical things you hear from good, well-meaning young adults after a seemingly benign freshmen initiation quickly and unwittingly mutates into a dangerous hazing ordeal that harms players, threatens lives, destroys careers and tarnishes a team’s and school’s reputation.
Hazing is still a pervasive issue, especially in the athletic arena. It’s often the result of newcomers desperately trying to fit in, veteran athletes who erroneously think they are promoting a sense of team, a lack of clear thinking because of alcohol, and the silence or absence of responsible leaders who know what’s appropriate and safe.
As listed on the website stophazing.org, a 1999 study by Alfred University and the NCAA found that approximately 80 percent of college athletes had been subjected to some form of hazing. Half were required to participate in drinking contests or alcohol-related initiations, while two-thirds were subjected to humiliating hazing.
As I travel to various schools and get a chance to talk with student-athlete leaders, it alarms me that so many of them have a shockingly lax and innocent view toward initiation. Combine this permissive attitude with Facebook and Twitter, where young adults post their party pictures and notes on their escapades, and you have the high likelihood of embarrassment, if not disaster, for your team or school.
The primary purposes of this article are to remind (and in some cases alert) you that hazing is still alive and well; that as a coach and administrator, you must take this issue seriously, especially at the beginning of the school year when initiations are more likely to occur. It’s also to offer some practical suggestions for proactively preventing hazing, or channeling it into more positive alternatives.
Your leaders are the key people when it comes to determining how your veteran athletes welcome the freshmen on the team. If your leaders believe initiation ceremonies are okay, you have a recipe for disaster and must act quickly. If your leaders believe that hazing is not the thing to do and dissuade other teammates from doing so, you have your best insurance policy against it.
Here are six steps you must take to greatly minimize the chances that a hazing incident will occur on your team.
1. Develop strong, positive & responsible leaders.
It always puzzles me when schools are looking for an anti-hazing speaker or program. When it comes right down to it, what these schools really want and need are positive, responsible and proactive leaders who do not plan or permit any hazing.
Invest the time to develop strong leaders who aren’t afraid to step up and speak out against hazing.
2. Provide positive alternatives.
Ironically, some team leaders believe that hazing promotes team building, when in actuality it undermines it. If team building is what they are after, then there are a variety of positive team-building ideas that leaders can use like team dinners, movie nights, rope courses, camping trips, whitewater rafting and laser tag. You don’t have to be overly creative to discover an idea that can be effective in building team unity.
3. Meet with leaders to discuss your views & policies.
Make sure your leaders and team members know in no uncertain terms that hazing will not be tolerated in your program or school.
Let your leaders know that you’re holding them accountable to prevent and diffuse any potential hazing incidents before they happen. Be clear about the consequences for everyone.
Remember, if you suspect hazing may occur at a party, yet say nothing, your athletes, in effect, believe that you condone the behavior.
4. Cite examples of initiations gone wrong.
To help the message sink in with your athletes, you might consider giving your leaders examples of teams that have lost teammates or seasons because of hazing incidents.
Calling attention to these real-life examples is especially important if you believe your athletes have a reckless attitude toward hazing. These terrible, yet practical, examples can help them understand the seriousness of the situation.
5. Create a buddy system.
Pair up your newcomers with one of your veteran athletes. Let the veteran know that they are in charge of helping the newcomer survive and thrive in the new environment.
You want to create a situation where the older teammate acts as a big brother or sister for the younger one and looks out for them. Impress upon the veteran that they must always look out for and protect their younger teammates.
6. Encourage newcomers to report incidents.
Let your newcomers know that you want them to come to you immediately if they anticipate or experience any hazing.
Obviously, most young athletes are unlikely to do so because they want to fit in with the team. The last thing they want is their teammates to view them as a tattletale.
Just be sure that they know that you have a zero-tolerance policy for hazing.