Ethics in Sports: Challenges that Arise in Interscholastic Athletics

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Behavioral learning begins at a young age. Adolescents who participate in interscholastic sports are shaping themselves, using the experiences they have with other athletes and athletic administrators. Guiding these young minds through leadership that is focused on integrity and honor can foster sportsmanship both on and off the field. Many of the lessons student-athletes learn will transition to real-world situations later in life. As a result, learning positive behaviors and staying away from unethical behaviors such as cheating, hazing, and being disrespectful, is more important in the big picture.

Associations—such as the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS), and the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association (NIAAA)—were founded to establish universal guidelines that any athletic administration can embrace. These associations provide a code of ethics to enforce principled leadership that leads by example and seeks to root out adverse behaviors. The overall goal is to promote a constructive environment from which student-athletes can learn as they mature.

Challenges will continually arise throughout athletic programs nationwide. Athletic administrations, the NFHS, and the NIAAA are all responsible for helping overcome these challenges so student-athletes have the opportunity to forge strong moral and ethical character. In time, these student-athletes will become leaders themselves who teach the following generations about playing with integrity, fairness, and respect.


Not to be confused with traditions, hazing is a dangerous activity in which some coaches and athletes still unfortunately participate. It’s important for athletic administrations to be aware of the close-knit interactions of their teams, so they can prevent or address any destructive behaviors or activities.

Hazing can have many negative consequences. Paramount among these is the potential damage that may be done to a student – athlete’s mental and physical health. Safety is vital in interscholastic athletics, and hazing promotes dangerous adverse activities. Student-athletes who are affected by hazing may also find they cannot eat, concentrate, or sleep. Poor diet and sleep deprivation can result in further physical and mental damage that takes time to heal.

To prevent these negative consequences, coaches can implement techniques that bring the team together in a positive, safe environment. Pairing seniors with freshmen can create personal bonds that hold both participants accountable. Freshmen have the chance to befriend and learn from an experienced athlete, and seniors gain the responsibility and reward of teaching a protégé. This technique promotes a team mindset of pride and accountability, instead of an environment that accepts the bullying of new players.

Another technique to mitigate or prevent hazing is to engage in other activities outside of the sport. Coaches can organize team dinners and events that are designed to increase interaction between players in a non-competitive atmosphere. Athletic administrators can’t force athletes to develop friendships or personal bonds, but they can create healthy environments in which those interactions can happen organically. Team bonding techniques that develop positive relationships can replace unethical hazing activities.


Clearly an unethical behavior, cheating involves the literal avoidance or violation of rules. It can be viewed as gaining an unfair advantage or hindering another individual’s self-growth. This type of behavior isn’t just found in athletics. Cheating also occurs in relationships, careers, schools, and myriad life situations. Athletic administrations are constantly adapting strategies and rules to better combat cheating within their interscholastic programs.

Fortunately, cheating can be prevented or hindered through leadership by example. To be effective in athletic programs, this model behavior must come from every level of authority; from athletic directors to coaches, to support staff, and beyond. Even parents need to be involved, providing ethical and moral examples at home. The code of ethics from the NFHS calls for coaches to “master the contest rules and teach,” as well as to “not seek an advantage by circumvention of the spirit or letter of the rules.” Student-athletes will hopefully observe the dedication to integrity and respect their coaches demonstrate while making an effort to adopt those principles.

As stated previously, the conduct that student-athletes learn in interscholastic athletics can readily transfer to their performance in life. Cultivating honesty and a high level of personal conduct will teach these young adults to fulfill their goals through honest perseverance, instead of by means of cheating.

Interscholastic Sports Prepare Athletes for Life

A school’s athletic administration has the ultimate responsibility of setting an example from which student-athletes can learn positive behaviors. The vision of administrators should reflect integrity and honesty, and this vision should proudly be upheld by the student-athletes. Unfortunately, challenges such as cheating and hazing may never be stopped completely. The opportunity to gain an unfair advantage or dominate someone can be an attractive temptation for young minds. Athletics is an ideal place for adult leaders to mitigate those courses of action in adolescents, by replacing them with fairness, compassion, accountability, and respect.

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Ohio University Online Master of Athletic Administration program specializes in developing interscholastic Athletic Directors, building on the students’ passion for serving young student-athletes and running a highly-successful athletic department. Ohio University is a pioneer in sports education. By establishing the first academic program in the field of sports administration, this online program is recognized today as the premier professional training program for candidates seeking careers in the sports industry.

Recommended Readings

Ohio University Blog, “The Importance of a Strong Coach-Athlete Relationship”
Ohio University Blog, “What Standards Should Sports Coaches Follow?”
Ohio University Blog, “Cost of School Athletics Increasing”


National Federation of State High School Associations, “Coaches Code of Ethics”
National Federation of State High School Associations, ” About Us”
National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association, “NIAAA Code of Ethics”
OHSAA, ” 2018-2019 General Sports Regulations”
Positive Coaching Alliance, “Preventing Hazing And Bullying On Your Team”
Nebraska School Activities Association, “Sportsmanship Manual”