Remember when a batter would “accidentally” hit one up the middle just over the pitcher’s head or slide hard into second base to break up a double play? Oddly enough, it was a rarity that anyone would get mad enough to start a fight over it. The usual response was whoever got up first--the fielder or runner-- helped the other up. Players believed it was “part of the game.” They loved playing and showing off for fans, even when the only fan was a stray dog running through the park.
What has changed? A lack of respect is the driving force behind disturbances in sports. If you go out for an evening of “recreational” adult softball, basketball, football or any other competitive sport, you may hear phrases like, “You can’t do me like that,” “Man, what’s your problem,” “Get off me” or something even stronger. Most altercations start with some type of trash-talking. Many of these athletes lack the intelligence to distinguish a verbal attack from good old-fashioned ribbing. These same athletes believe respect is something that they are entitled to--no matter how they behave--and not something that is earned.
Bring In The Officials
Let’s be honest--game officials, umpires, referees are confined to calling the game and imposing penalties as they see fit. They can go as far as ejecting a player, or in some instances, calling a game off. Since penalties are effective for only some players, more stringent, behavior-changing consequences need to be considered.
Evolution Of The Code
By now, most sports organizations have developed a player code of conduct. Some even incorporate spectators into the rules. The old adage, “One bad apple spoils the bunch,” is true. If only one or two players in a league or program consistently cause problems, the organization may limit the growth of that and other programs. Who wants to play in a league with cry babies and street fighters? More importantly, who wants to take their family to see that behavior?
The code of conduct has evolved from “unwritten” rules of behavior in the past to a coach or manager’s now requiring his/her players to sign a statement that they will abide by the established code of conduct.
The Importance Of Enforcement
Disciplining players who have paid money to participate in leagues or programs is not fun, even if they deserve it. Violations can range from a mouthy player who won’t let it go, to an all-out fight or worse. These violations carry penalties, falling somewhere between a simple warning to probation to a lifetime ban. The extent of the penalty is dependent on several factors:
· Severity of infraction
· Previous infractions
· Cooperation and admission during an investigation
When there is a code of conduct violation, the best approach is to be STIFF:
S--Seek information from officials, site staff, witnesses and involved parties
T--Talk to management to keep them informed, and gain support for recommendation
I--Implement consistency by reviewing the code of conduct
F--Firmly--yet respectfully--inform all parties receiving discipline
F—Follow up with the penalized participants in writing
By following STIFF, there should be little confusion, if any, about what violation(s) occurred, or the extent and duration of the penalty.
Just Play Ball
The vast majority of participants just want to have fun, forget about the stresses of life, and play ball. The code of conduct is a valuable tool in eliminating players who create problems and prevent the masses from enjoying their leisure time. It is important to balance customer service with the best interests of the league or program. After all, it is better to punish one person than an entire league, so get rid of any player who creates distractions and keeps the program from being the best it can be. Then focus on moving forward and providing a most enjoyable recreational experience.
Gary Gartner is the Sports Coordinator with the City of Apache Junction, Ariz., and developed the Sports Code of Conduct for the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. It can be viewed at www.ajpr.org. Gartner has been in Parks and Recreation for over 12 years. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.