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Six Steps You Must Take to Prevent Hazing at Your School

Jeff Janssen, Janssen Sports Leadership Center
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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 teenagers and young adults after a seemingly benign freshmen initiation quickly and unwittingly mutates into a dangerous hazing ordeal that harms kids, threatens lives, destroys coaches' and administrators' 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 is appropriate and safe.

As listed on the website stophazing.org, "a 1999 study by Alfred University and the NCAA found that approximately 80% 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."

Further, as I travel around 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.

I hear things like: "It's harmless. It's great for team building. It's tradition. It was done to us."

Combine this permissive attitude toward hazing with the plethora of websites like Facebook and MySpace available for kids to post their party pictures on, and you've got the high likelihood of embarrassment if not disaster for your team/school.

In fact, the vigilante website Badjocks.com has made a name for itself by intentionally seeking out and posting any pictures related to athletes, partying, and hazing - raising awareness and accountability exponentially along with the stress levels of many coaches and athletic administrators.

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; and to offer some practical suggestions for proactively preventing hazing - or channeling it into more positive alternatives.


Policies or Attitudes and Actions

Virtually every school in America has a written policy against hazing. Yet 80% of student-athletes are subjected to it. So stricter policies are not necessarily the answer.

As Dr. Amber Warner's research on leadership and alcohol so clearly demonstrates (see link below), student-athletes actual behaviors are most influenced by the attitudes and actions of the team leaders, rather than the policies of the school or the frequency of admonitions from coaches.

http://www.teamcaptainsnetwork.com/public/170.cfm

Plain and simple, if the leaders use and abuse alcohol, the team members take their cues from them and follow suit. If the leaders take a responsible approach to alcohol, the teammates do as well.

This finding can likely be applied to hazing as well. Your leaders are the key people when it comes to determining how your veteran athletes will "welcome" the freshmen on the team. If your leaders believe initiation ceremonies are okay, you've got 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.

Thus, as usual, the leaders are the key. And working with them and through them is your job as the coach.


SIX STEPS FOR PREVENTING HAZING ON YOUR TEAM

Here are six steps that you can and 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 will 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 to Hazing

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, ropes courses, camping trips, whitewater rafting, laser tag, team building challenges, etc. As a coach, you can either organize these team building ideas or empower your team leaders to do so.

3. Meet with Your Leaders and Team to Discuss Your Views and Policy on Hazing

Make sure your leaders and team members know in no uncertain terms that hazing will not be tolerated in your program/school. Let your leaders know that you are holding them accountable to prevent and diffuse any potential hazing incidents BEFORE they happen. Be clear that the consequences for them and the team will be quite severe if they do not heed your warning.

(Remember, if you suspect hazing may occur at a party, yet say nothing, your athletes in effect will likely believe that you condone the behavior.)

4. Cite Examples of Initiations Gone Bad

To help the message sink in to your athletes, you might consider giving your leaders examples of teams that have lost teammates and/or seasons because of hazing incidents. Calling attention to these real-life examples is especially important if you believe your athletes have a careless attitude toward hazing. These terrible, yet practical examples can help them understand the seriousness of the situation.

5. Install 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/sister for the younger one and looks out for him/her. Impress upon the veteran that they must always look out for and protect their younger teammate.

6. Encourage Your Newcomers to Report Any Anticipated or Actual Hazing

Let your newcomers know that you want them to come to you immediately if they anticipate or experience any hazing. Obviously most will be unlikely to do so because they want to fit in to the team and the last thing they want is their teammates to view them as a tattletale. However, be sure that they too know that you have zero tolerance for hazing.

While unfortunately these suggestions can never guarantee that you won't have a hazing incident, proactively using these suggestions provides you with the best insurance policy against it.


In addition to the above suggestions, I've provided some links below of some fabulous resources on hazing prevention.

Stophazing.org http://www.stophazing.org/athletic_hazing/index.htm

Hank Nuwer - a leading expert on hazing http://hazing.hanknuwer.com/


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