How to Prevent Hazing in High School Sports - by Sarah Daren

From the Coach’s Clipboard Basketball Playbook
"Helping coaches coach better..."

Sarah Daren is a featured writer on the Today Show website and has been a consultant for organizations across a number of industries including athletics, health and wellness, technology and education. When she's not caring for her children or watching the New York Yankees play, Sarah enjoys practicing yoga and reading a good book on the beach.

Sarah Daren
Sarah Daren

Giving freshmen in high school sports a difficult time is as old a "tradition" as the sports themselves, but as with anything, there is a line that can be crossed, and for quite some time, even when that line was crossed, punishments (if any) were kept internal, and the issue of hazing as a whole also stayed rather hidden.

Hazing can cause physical harm, and often it involves some kind of pain, but it can also cause lasting effects on youngsters' mentalities. Mental health screenings in schools are becoming the norm in most of the country, and student-athletes who experience depression and anxiety often point to hazing as one of the reasons for their feelings.

Whether you have a child in sports, or are directly involved via coaching or administratively, this list of tips on how to prevent hazing can help curb the trend away from it being so normal, as it causes lifelong issues for some.

Choose Your Leaders

There are fair arguments about letting the kids choose the captains, but that in and of itself can result in pressure being put on youngster to vote one way or another, and can also result in the vote being a popularity contest, not one based on leadership qualities. Selecting team captains should be a coach's job, and picking those who are accepting of everyone on the team and just promote the traits that are becoming of an inclusive leader who looks out for their team, rather than one who only wants to win.

team captain

Clearly Define the Rules

Most schools have a hazing policy for sports in their administrative offices, but that doesn't mean that students are well-informed on what those policies are. First step is ensuring the policies are clear and encompassing. Next is to ensure they are ingrained in your team members' heads. Weekly revisits may be necessary, depending on the depth of the issue at your school. There is never "too much" when it comes to defining your stances on hazing.

Hopefully there are no glaring examples to point to, but if your school has had incidents, share them and feel free to exaggerate punishments if you think they were too soft at the time of the event.


Provide Alternatives

There are plenty of ways to allow upperclassmen to try to assert their dominance within the flow of a given sport. Set up drills where freshman will have no choice but to learn a lesson or two from the upperclassmen. Ultimately, a will to engage in hazing comes from an experience that someone was on the wrong end of. Anytime someone advances in any part of their life, there is value in the moments of harsh realization that they have some work to do, and these moments should happen for students going from JV to varsity and so on, but they can all be done within the flow of a sport or activity.

Empower Reporting

No children want to be viewed as snitches by their peers, so this one can be tricky, but as long as you can get your team onboard to view hazers as worse people than so-called snitches, the students will focus on the hazer and continue to develop a culture that is inclusive to all of those except people who hurt others on the team.

youth leaders

Promote the Culture Beyond Your Team

Just as hazing became a passed-down practice, anti-hazing can be shared and encouraged just as easily. It exists beyond sports, so encouraging the school your team represents to bring hazing training into the classroom and not just the locker room is a great way to spread the positivity. Coaches' meetings are also opportunities to provide training that can truly end up saving youngsters' lives.

Articles by Sarah Daren