The start of another athletic season.
Coaches hand out training rules. Kids and parents sign on the line.
That’s the short version, of course. There’s more. Much more. Putting your autograph on a sheet of paper, you see, and vowing to abide by the time-honored guidelines set by the athletic department should never be just a perfunctory exercise. It’s serious business, actually, and a tone-setter for life.
Once, what’s now called the Athletic Training Rule Agreement was simply The Pledge. No smoking, drinking, or illegal drug use. Basically, that was it. Time and thought brought change, not to the substance but to the reasoning behind the policy that’s quite familiar to all Collegiate athletes.
“When we had The Pledge,” said athletic director Karen Doxey, “you were saying, on your honor, that you would not break training rules. That changed because we felt it shouldn’t be an honor violation. It was more of a behavior situation.”
The shift in terminology has not at all lessened the importance of the requirement or the message.
“We feel very strongly that adhering to training rules is the best thing for kids,” she added. “We state the rules, why we believe in them, and the consequences.”
The “Agreement” is clear about forbidding the use of alcohol, illegal drugs, and, as it’s worded now, all nicotine products.
Rather than simply presenting a laundry list of thou-shall-nots, though, the document begins with the school’s substance abuse policy which states that “use of alcohol and other drugs by students is illegal and detrimental to their intellectual, physical, and personal development,” that the institution is “committed to promoting a healthy student community free of substance abuse in all forms,” and that “working toward this goal requires a dedicated effort by students, parents, teachers, and administrators.”
In the rationale portion of the document are statements such as “student-athletes are expected to make sacrifices for the good of their teams,” “they give their time and energy, and they give of themselves physically, mentally, and emotionally,” and “success…is proportional to the degree to which individuals undertake such sacrifices.”
Finally, the “Agreement” stresses the expectation that athletes “display proper conduct, self-control, and good sportsmanship at all times.”
The idea of having both athlete and parent sign the agreement is to promote discussion at home and augment conversations among coaches and team members throughout the season.
“We want to partner with families,” Doxey said. “We want to show parents and kids that we take this seriously because we’re addressing health issues. It can be very hard to sit down and talk to your kids about drugs, alcohol, or tobacco. This gives them a purpose for the conversation. Research has shown that when kids know how their parents feel, even though they might not say it, they really are listening.”
The advent of e-cigarettes and vaping has upped the ante on training rules.
“Vaping was advertised as less harmful, but it isn’t,” Doxey said. “The school has had to educate students, coaches, and parents as well.”
While a statement of training rules and a coaches’ committee that adjudicates violations might seem punitive in nature, the focus from the outset has been on encouraging positive decision-making that can lead to maximum performance.
“Hopefully, when our coaches talk to their teams, they communicate the message of caring about their wellbeing,” Doxey said. “There’re so many negative effects of not following training rules. We want to lay the groundwork for a healthy lifestyle.”
Does adherence to training rules guidelines pay off in terms of wins and championships?
Difficult to say. That’s not the point, though.
Most athletes by nature commit themselves to do all within their power to achieve team and personal goals.
What will they do to achieve? Shoot thousands of free throws? Take extra batting practice? Spend inordinate hours in the weight room? Swim extra laps? Run extra miles?
“But nothing,” Doxey said, “speaks more loudly to your commitment to yourself, your team, your school, your family, good health, and excellence than abiding by the training rules.”