Schools discuss difficulties with athletic policies
Crafting a policy to encourage athletes to positively represent themselves and their teams is a daily struggle for many athletic directors, which is why it has become a constantly evolving process.
St. Joseph's High School Athletic Director Jim Olayos said athletes aren't required to sign any type of contract before they are eligible to play other than the handbook that all students sign. For Olayos, trying to craft an all encompassing policy for athletes is entirely subjective because all the instances that require disciplinary action are different.
"When it comes to behavior a lot of it is subjective. It isn't like you can treat it like drug or alcohol abuse and just say if you do it you will be kicked off the team," he said. "We deal with factual information like unsportsmanlike conduct."
One of the issues Olayos weighs when determining how an athlete should be punished is who the offender is and how many times have been involved in poor behavior in the past.
"You want these kids to represent their school well. I always tell the kids they are representing their school, their families and themselves," Olayos said.
Even if an athlete violates the terms of the school's policy, Olayos tries to turn the incident into a positive experience by making it a teachable moment.
"I try to take it from a learning standpoint and present it so the athlete can learn from the mistake. However, there are some instances that aren't teachable moments," he said.
As a matter of policy at St. Joseph, Olayos recognizes there are some athletes who are unable to control themselves and as a result, coaches will pull them out of the game. In some instances it can be a judgement call as to whether an athlete should be benched because there are times, in the heat of the moment, when an athlete will say something to an official that they might not have otherwise said.
"We want our athletes to learn to control themselves, but if they can't do that over a long period of time then the coaches will pull them," he said.
Being able to teach athletes to control themselves and to learn from their mistakes is key to maintaining a strong team because school policies can only go so far.
"If you try to legislate against every behavior then you sort of back yourself into a corner. There are times when you can tell a kid he can't play when he crosses a line but policies are only as good as the people who implement them," Olayos said.
One of the major focuses for Olayos is to make sure players and coaches have a strong relationship and a that the relationship is based on respect. Olayos said he has seen instances where players don't respect their coaches and that can create problems. Also, Olayos said a player's behavior on and off the field can also reflect how they behave in the classroom.
As a final step, Olayos holds pre-season meetings with players and parents to explain the rules and how players and coaches can communicate.
"I would hope the parents would back the coaches but it depends on the kids and the parents," he said. "There have been instances with over-zealous parents who have been asked to leave games."
Danbury High School operates under similar guidelines and stresses the importance of athletes representing their school well.
Athletic Director Dan Scavone said athletes are aware that their ability to participate is a privilege and not a right. However, one of the problems Scavone has encountered is that he feels athletes are often unfairly scrutinized for how they conduct themselves as opposed to other students.
"They get held to a higher standard because when representing the school there is greater scrutiny," he said.
Scavone said he hopes each athlete learns to be a better citizen because of the qualities taught to athletes.
"All kids that age are faced with temptation and everyday we hope they make good decisions," he said.
As important as the individual's behavior is, parents can also play a role in how their children will behave.
"Parents can be role models for their kids and there are times where the kids will learn what to do and what not to do from observing their parents," Scavone said. "We try to maintain good sportsmanship on the field and in the stands."
Both St. Joseph and Danbury high schools have taken strides to improve communication between players, parents and coaches, but Norwalk High School took it one step further by bringing their coaches into the school.
Athletic Director Wayne Mones said one of the most successful programs at the high school has been the implementation of after school tutorials. One of the most common reasons for players being unable to compete was due to poor grades. However, in the past two years the school has been hosting the tutorials run by coaches and teachers to help their players succeed and the efforts have paid off.
"We didn't have one single player who was ineligible to play in the Thanksgiving Day game this year due to grades on any of our football teams," Mones said.
The tutorials haven't just improved grades but also behavior because coaches are able to learn about problems before they become a serious issue.
"With all of the social media being used there are things being posted and tweeted that students aren't always aware shouldn't be. We try to tell our students that if you put something on your Facebook page and then apply to Yale, there is nothing stopping Yale from going on your page and seeing it," Mones said.
Mones also pointed out that when students tweet about problems, their coaches are learning about it faster and are able to handle the situation before it becomes worse.
"Having coaches in the school really trumps anything else you can do," Mones said.