Team building toppling hazing one coach at a time

By Seth Beifel
Staff writer

Hazing rituals, long a part of some college and high school sports teams, is getting more scrutiny

The National Collegiate Athletic Association, which governs college sports, now monitors hazing.

In 2007, it published a report titled, “Building New Traditions: Hazing Prevention in College Athletics.” The report outlines roles for everyone involved with collegiate athletics ranging from school administrators to coaches to players. Recognizing behaviors of the past, the NCAA recommends a departmental approach to hazing prevention. “The effort to create a change in attitudes and behavior will be worth the effort if it prevents one student-athlete from a humiliating or degrading experience, physical injury or psychological harm, as a result of a hazing incident!”

The need to prevent bullying is being discussed at the high school level, as well.

In Pennsylvania, Upper Dublin High School 9th grade basketball coach Alex Schugsta says hazing occurs in other schools, but that is not something he wants around his team. “To me it seems to contradict the entire team concept behind sports. I fail to see how it builds team chemistry by alienating one or a few players on a team,” says Schugsta. A former high school basketball player, Schugsta understands the need to create a team. “An acceptable sports bonding practice would be a pizza and movie activity, or if time and money permits, perhaps a paint-balling day. Activities like this build the team concept and sense of togetherness,” says Schugsta.

Hazing as a rite of sports passage is not a problem just in the United States, it spreads across oceans. Luke Lichtenstein, a former high school basketball player in Sydney, Australia, says hazing is present in sports the same way it is in the United States. He says, “There were most definitely cliques within teams, but it never got to the point where a teammate would ever feel pressured to do something just to ‘fit in.’” Lichtenstein said there were instances of hazing, but not on his team. Lichtenstein said he was taught that having, “multiple members from a team pressuring a fellow team mate to do something they don’t want to do goes against the whole concept of being a team.

Building a team is the central theme, according to former Salem High School (Mi.) football graduate assistant Dirk Roberts. When talking about hazing on his football team, he adamantly said that, “We didn’t allow that stuff to happen. We didn’t want to see any of it.” The topic of hazing in sports is a taboo topic, but as Roberts says, “I can understand where it fits in, but you have to draw the line somewhere.”

NCAA defines hazings as, “Any act committed against someone joining or becoming a member or maintaining membership in any organization that is humiliating,intimidating or demeaning, or endangers the health and safety of the person.”

While the NCAA provides a definition for hazing, with the topic being so broad it is difficult to establish a universal definition for hazing in sports. Someone must carry the water cooler, but is it hazing if only the new members of the team have to do it? Picking up the basketballs after a practice is something that needs to be done, is it hazing if only the rookies do it? Those are the questions coaches and team leaders are faced with at every practice. While some younger coaching influences on a team, such as Roberts, may see that “there’s the tradition behind it.” Coaches with greater experience may see it as Schugsta goes with a zero-tolerance attitude.

NCAA’s approach is like Schugsta’s. The boundary between hazing and team- building is a fine line. “Hazing is a power trip…Team Building is a shared positive experience,” says NCAA.

Here is the NCAA report, Building New Traditions: Hazing Prevention in College Athletics

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