In the wake of the alleged Miami Dolphins’ Richie Incognito/Jonathan Martin bullying incident, there has been a lot of talk about football culture – and the culture of sports in general. Much has been said about rites of passage, hazing and what it means to be a man.
One underlying message has been that in the face of abuse, bullying and bigotry – one should just tough it out and take one for the team, never violating the code of secrecy.
Whatever transpired between Martin and Incognito, Martin felt there was no other recourse than to walk away from his team … and lifelong dream.
Regardless of what occurred, the situation presents an opportunity for us all to challenge and collectively redefine the “culture” of sports. We have a chance to change the public debate about what is – and is not – OK in sports team culture.
A positive youth sports experience should provide players with a team of peers and a coach who serves as a role model. I believe it is the coach who is ultimately responsible for creating this experience by setting the tone, standards for behavior and clear, consistent consequences if those standards are not met.
A coach must care enough to be attentive and focused on all players, support the growth and development of each athlete and ensure a safe environment on the field and in the locker room. If players are consistently demonstrating disrespectful behavior – it is because the coach has communicated that it is acceptable – either verbally or by turning a blind eye.
Sometimes coaches are faced with difficult situations. Over the last twenty years, I have faced things I never would have dreamed of. But it was my job to deal with it. If we are truly going to impact the lives of our players – we must have the courage to stand up for what is right and to intervene when something is wrong.
Coaching Corps coaches can lead by example. We work with impressionable young people who are impacted by our words and our actions. It is up to us to be the coach who protects the safe culture of our team, who goes the extra yard and who kids trust and feel safe talking to. Together, as committed coaches, we can challenge the status quo, demonstrate real sportsmanship and be champions for every child.
See you on the field,