When girls feel safe, they thrive.
Making practice a safe space is about more than just physical safety. It’s about emotional safety and creating an environment that allows girls to bring their true selves to the team.
Let’s talk rules, or what we call our strict behavior code (SBC), and how they can allow for safe play and expression that will have a significant impact on the lives and development of your athletes.
Growing up, girls will be expected to follow different sets of rules depending on where they are. For example, they’ll have different rules for school compared to home compared to a social event. What’s more, girls tend not to have much say in how rules are developed. A strict behavior code helps to address the challenges of sports before they arise and gives girls an inherent understanding of how things are done in your program.
Safety is an important feeling for girls to feel every time they enter your program. A strict behavior code helps to accomplish this by not only stating the most important behaviors, but also giving girls the opportunity to have a say in its creation and helps them feel in control of the program and their participation.
Let’s break it down
Strict doesn’t mean punitive or militaristic. Strict refers to a set of rules that everyone takes seriously and closely abides by. You as a coach should identify a few key behaviors that are the most important non-negotiables for the team. These are things that are never OK in your program, regardless of when or why they might be happening. Think: no physical violence, teasing, or anything that isolates or humiliates players. It’s not about making a big set of rules, it’s about making a handful that go beyond sports to address how players treat each other.
Words can be subjective. Certain words can mean something different to each player. That’s why it’s important for you as a coach to identify and verbalize the behaviors you want to see and hear in the program and avoid terms without a clearly defined meaning. For example, being respectful is a common expectation for players to hear. But respect is a word that can have many literal meanings. To some, it may mean showing up early to a practice or game. To others, it may mean formally greeting others whenever they arrive at practice or a game. Instead of saying, “Be respectful,” you should say, “Remain silent when someone else is talking.” This focuses on the behaviors you want to see that demonstrate respect.
The word rule sometimes has a negative connotation. For many young athletes, it is interpreted as something they have to do even if they don’t agree with it or don’t know why they have to do it. The word code is more collaborative. Consider things in your strict behavior code that players can agree are important and necessary.
Remember: safety is the root of a positive sporting experience. A safe environment will help girls feel free to take safe risks, learn new things, and grow as athletes and women.
Code in action
It’s important to reinforce your code each time your team meets. You could do this by:
1) Posting your SBC on your field of play
2) Having your starting huddle take place next to your SBC
3) Reciting the SBC as a part of your introduction to the day
Take some time to think about what you would put in your SBC and how you might reinforce it with your players.