Instilling Student-Athletes with a Sense of Ethical Responsibility

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Coaches at Prescott Valley, AZ’s Bradshaw Mountain High School understand the importance of ethics in interscholastic sports. Doug Cook’s The Daily Courier article, “How Bradshaw Mountain, Chino Valley High Schools Combat Hazing and Bullying,” details the school’s zero-tolerance policy on harassing behavior. Students caught hazing or bullying can be suspended for 180 days and barred from setting foot on any district property.

Portrait of boys team sitting in front of coach on football field listening to pre game lecture

Punishment is just one side of the coin, however. Bradshaw Mountain’s athletic director Tony Miller also requires his coaches to receive Positive Coaching Alliance training. Coaches are required to engage with students constantly, promoting ethical behavior and positive teamwork. For instance, while riding a bus to an away game, coaches don’t sit in front, unaware of what’s going on behind them. Instead, they position themselves throughout the bus, among the students.

Current or prospective coaches in a master’s in coaching program should be aware that ethics in sports will be a crucial part of their coaching responsibilities. Successful coaches understand the importance of being a positive role model while teaching student-athletes the core values they will need to make difficult ethical judgments in sports and other parts of their lives.

Bradshaw Mountain also implements a Silent Witness program, which allows any student to anonymously report bullying and hazing incidents by phone, or by telling the dean of students, the school resource officer, or any school employee.

Foundation of Ethics in Coaching – Be a Good Role Model

Ethics begin with a strong sense of responsibility to oneself and others. That responsibility then requires everyone to establish a set of ground rules for making decisions based on what’s right and moral.

In sports organizations, coaches should exemplify the ethical standards they expect of their student-athletes. Leaders should be role models, passing on their understanding of priorities and their sense of purpose to the young people in their care. Sports writer Sue Dulaney, in “Ethic in Coaching?” on, suggests that coaches start with five moral obligations as a foundation for their system of ethics. They are:

  • Preserve their own integrity
  • Use their professional expertise on their athletes’ behalf
  • Adhere to organizational goals and policies
  • Uphold the standards of the profession and, by extension, the reputation
    of their fellow practitioners
  • Consider social needs and claims

To become truly great role models, however, coaches also need to display the character traits and personal standards they want to see in their students.

Dr. David Hoch, CMAA, writes in his article, “A Positive Example,” that coaches should strive to use proper English and grammar, avoiding inappropriate language at all times. Coaches are some of the most publicly visible school officials, so what they say and do can often be taken as a representation of their school’s official position.

Hoch adds that coaches also need to present a professional appearance; engage with others respectfully; follow the rules of their sport explicitly; and provide a supportive, nurturing, and encouraging environment for their student-athletes.

Passing the Ethics Role on to Student-Athletes

Teaching ethics to student-athletes involves more than simply being a good role model. Students need to develop their own sense of responsibility and increase their proficiency in ethics.

Teachers and coaches have access to a number of curricula that can help young people develop the skills they need to make ethical and moral decisions. One option is the LifeGoals Critical Thinking Curriculum, which lets students role play or rehearse real-world scenarios that involve an ethical choice. It exposes them to new concepts and critical thinking criteria at each level and offers the opportunity to practice those concepts and incorporate them into their lives.

“Based on the LifeGoals Critical Thinking Curriculum, the heart of the class entails teaching the Goal-Oriented Option Development (GOOD) Decision Model,” Athletic Director Lawrence “Bubba” Cunningham writes in “Spreading Ethics” on “This breaks down decision-making into a step-by-step process, allowing students to understand the options that arise with any situation. It also guides them through analyzing the pros and cons of those choices.”

Regardless of curriculum, coaches should consider implementing some form of ethics training. If they are to be successful in teaching their students a mature ethical code, they must also be good instructors. Young people who aspire to mold themselves after their leaders still need to learn how to become the people they want to be. Achieving personal goals, for student-athletes, means learning how to make logical and ethical decisions the same way their favorite coach does.

About Ohio University’s Online Master of Athletic Administration Degree

Ohio University’s online MAA program is designed to teach professionals how to manage the many changes in interscholastic sports. The university launched the nation’s first academic program in sports administration in 1966 and continues to be a leader in sports business education.

Ohio University’s online MAA program is housed within the university’s College of Business, underscoring the university’s dedication to providing world-class sports business education.

The program works in collaboration with the National Intercollegiate Athletic Administrators Association (NIAAA) to prepare graduates for certification and is accredited by the Commission on Sport Management Accreditation (COSMA). For more information, contact an enrollment advisor at Ohio University.


Recommended Reading:

Ethics in Sports: Challenges that Arise in Interscholastic Athletics

Effective Leadership of Sports Programs



Bradshaw Mountain High School Combats Hazing – The Daily Courier

Ethic in Coaching? –

Curriculum Overview –