Student Athlete Code of Conduct: Guide for Coaches, Parents and Students

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A smiling coach talks to his high school basketball squad on the court.Scholar-athletes are expected to perform at a high level, both on the field and off. During games, student-athletes must demonstrate advanced athleticism, with the ultimate goal of winning for their school. Just as important is their performance in the classroom; without the right grades, scholar-athletes may not qualify to continue playing. Behavior and sportsmanship are also critical, as student-athletes serve as ambassadors for their team, school, and community.

To help students uphold these high standards, school athletic programs must set clear expectations. A student-athlete code of conduct outlines requirements, leaving no room for doubt regarding expectations for athletes, parents, and coaches. These guides serve as important points of reference for all involved.

What Is a Code of Conduct?

At a foundational level, a code of conduct is a document that outlines the rules, norms, and behavioral expectations for the individuals within an organization. Many school sports teams have codes of conduct that athletes and parents must sign off on in order to play; violation of the code of conduct may result in suspension for a certain number of games or, in some cases, being cut from the team altogether.

Academic Policies

Often, codes of conduct are created to help scholar-athletes maintain a sense of balance between intellectual development and athletic practice. Indeed, one of the major benefits of a student-athlete code of conduct is that it provides guardrails, preventing too much focus on sports at the expense of learning.

As such, some student-athlete codes of conduct may require the maintenance of a certain grade-point average (GPA). Classroom attendance may also be addressed; for example, students with a certain number of unexcused absences may be cut or suspended from their teams. Student-athletes may also be expected simply to adhere to any stated classroom rules.

Behavioral Policies

Scholar-athletes serve as ambassadors for their team and their school, and school administrators and fundraisers may require that athletes conduct themselves with a certain decorum. As such, a code of conduct may touch upon various behaviors, encompassing those both on the field and off. For example, the Columbus City School District’s Extracurricular Code of Conduct prohibits students from engaging in criminal activity and using or possessing tobacco, alcohol, drugs, or controlled substances at any time.

Other examples include:

  • Stipulations for sportsmanship, such as shaking hands with the opposing team after a game
  • A dress code requirement
  • Strict prohibitions against bullying or other bad behavior

Benefits for the School

The purpose of these student-athlete codes of conduct is to help students succeed, but they also help the school cultivate an environment of learning. Educators may rightly be concerned that an overemphasis on athletics can distract from classroom learning; a student-athlete code of conduct mediates this problem by ensuring that even gifted athletes bring certain respect and studiousness to the classroom.

Student Rights and Responsibilities Within a Code of Conduct

One helpful way to think about a code of conduct is that it summarizes student rights and responsibilities. For example, a student-athlete code of conduct can codify the students’ right to enjoy a constructive and focused classroom experience. At the same time, it outlines student-athletes’ obligations to their school and team, including obeying not only school rules but also the laws of the city, state, and nation.

Student Rights

A clearly articulated standard of conduct ensures that students’ rights are defined and protected — that they are not singled out, unfairly treated, or punished without justification. Students who comply with the stated code of conduct cannot be penalized or deprived of the full scholar-athlete experience.

Additionally, requiring students to maintain classroom attendance and good grades prevents coaches from expecting too much time in the weight room or on the field. In other words, it preserves the scholar-athlete’s right to a high-quality education.

A good code of conduct also will explain the students’ right to appeal disciplinary action and will outline the process.

Student Responsibilities

In addition to rights, a code of conduct highlights the student-athletes’ obligation to obey the rules of the classroom, the campus, and the government. Indeed, student-athlete codes of conduct often state that all participants in an athletic program must abide by all local, state, and federal laws and that criminal or extralegal behavior can result in termination from the team or expulsion from the school.

More Information About Student Rights and Responsibilities

To learn more about how a student’s code of conduct can encapsulate rights and responsibilities, consider the following resources.

Exploring the Athletic Code of Conduct

Schools might create an athletic code of conduct for a number of reasons. Ultimately, it can benefit the entire school, as it ensures scholar-athletes are equipped to be positive representatives within their community. It also outlines expectations for parents and boosters.

Benefits for Students

The athletic code of conduct is designed first and foremost for students. Its primary function is to outline expectations, ensuring scholar-athletes clearly understand behavioral and academic expectations and aren’t caught off guard by disciplinary action. Additionally, it helps them understand how to defend their rights, such as appealing disciplinary decisions made without merit or due process.

Benefits for Coaches

Coaches also benefit from an athletic code of conduct. This code provides them with clarity about when they may take disciplinary action against students. Through strict adherence to the code of conduct, coaches can ensure they are not accused of treating student-athletes with favoritism or prejudice.

Benefits for Parents

Parents of student-athletes naturally want to ensure that their children know what’s expected of them, and a code of conduct is a binding agreement with the school that lays out their children’s obligations while also enshrining their rights. In this sense, an athletic code of conduct can provide peace of mind.

Benefits for Teachers

Teachers have a right to maintain classrooms where learning is prized above all else, and where students are not needlessly distracted by onerous athletic schedules. One of the main directives of any student-athlete code of conduct is to maintain this positive learning environment so that teachers can do their job.

Benefits for the School

Generally, an athletic code of conduct will enshrine all the general rules and protocols of the school, and perhaps even hold student-athletes to a higher standard. In this way, the student-athlete code of conduct helps ensure that those wearing the school’s uniform are representing the school well through good behavior. This can boost a school’s local reputation, which can help improve enrollment as well as fundraising. Clearly stated expectations and disciplinary procedures also can provide clarity should a school ever be subject to a lawsuit.

Additional Insights

To learn more about the role of an athletic code of conduct, consider:

Key Concepts in Athletic Code of Conduct Examples

Not all athletic codes of conduct are created equal. The specifics may vary according to both the values of the school as well as the age of its students. For example, religious observance may be encompassed in the athletic code of a Catholic school, but wouldn’t be included at a public university. Stipulations about alcohol consumption might be appropriate at the high school or collegiate level, but probably not in an elementary school level sports league.

Important Concepts in an Athletic Code of Conduct

Despite their differences, all student-athlete codes of conduct are commonly shaped by core principles. A few examples include:

  • A scholar-athlete code of conduct may require that students respect coaches and referees through their demeanor on the field and off. Conduct codes may also require respect for opponents, such as shaking hands or offering gracious words after a game.
  • Coaches may seek to cultivate responsible student-athletes by dictating regular attendance and punctuality.
  • Many athletic codes of conduct require that scholar-athletes maintain a certain level of citizenship, which may involve occasional involvement in community service or volunteer activities.
  • A code of conduct will usually outline expectations for team members’ behavior toward each other, including stipulations for how to care for teammates who are sidelined due to injury or illness.
  • One of the primary goals of a code of conduct is to ensure that student-athletes maintain a balance between sports and the classroom. This is where attendance requirements and minimum GPA thresholds are invaluable.

Athletic Code of Conduct Examples

To find out more about developing a student-athlete code of conduct, take a look at these resources:

What Is the Parents’ Code of Conduct in K-12 ?

To ensure that student-athletes enjoy a constructive experience on the field, it’s important to maintain a supportive environment. This means expecting basic standards of conduct not just from students but also from parents. Parents who display bad sportsmanship or other toxic behavior can ruin the interscholastic sports experience for everyone, set a bad example for students, and diminish the athletes’ hard work. This is why many school athletic programs have a parents’ code of conduct.

Key Principles in a Parents’ Code of Conduct in K-12

As with student-athlete codes of conduct, expectations for parents may vary from one league to the next. However, these basic principles are often found in a parents’ code of conduct.

  • One of the parents’ code of conduct’s primary goals is to outline what it means to be a good sport so parents set a positive example for their children. Conduct codes often provide guidelines for how parents should speak to and interact with student-athletes, parents from an opposing team, officiants, and coaches.
  • Many youth sports leagues depend on parents to volunteer their time working a concession stand, selling tickets, or assisting during practice. A code of conduct may highlight the required participation.
  • Codes of conduct may require that parents demonstrate for young athletes how to maintain a positive attitude, even after tough losses.

Learn More About Parents in K-12

For additional insight into the role of parents in K-12 sports, consider these resources.

Exploring the Coach’s Code of Conduct in K-12

A code of conduct may also codify expectations for coaches. A coach’s code of conduct in sports ensures a healthy, positive team environment for everyone. It guarantees that coaches, not just athletes, and their parents, remain good ambassadors for their school or league.

Coach’s Code of Conduct vs. Parents’ Code of Conduct

In many ways, the expectations for a coach may mirror those for a parent. For example, coaches, like parents, should model respect, good attitudes, and sportsmanship, after both wins and losses.

But some important components may differ. For one, parents typically focus on ensuring a positive experience for their child, but coaches must maintain fairness and equity for all student-athletes, acting without favoritism or bias.

Key Principles in a Coach’s Code of Conduct

Again, the specifics of a coach’s code of conduct vary depending on age level and league, but some core elements are common.

  • A code of conduct often emphasizes that a coach’s role is to safeguard the physical and emotional health of their athletes above all else, even the desire to win.
  • Many codes of conduct require that coaches not treat athletes in a way that displays prejudice or favoritism. Instead, both the coach and the students must follow written codes of conduct.
  • A code of conduct may have rules about how knowledgeable coaches must be when it comes to helping their athletes avoid injury and dealing with injuries that do occur.
  • A code of conduct will typically require coaches to speak respectfully to players on their own and the opposing team, as well as to officiants.
  • For younger children especially, a code of conduct may highlight that the ultimate goal is for everyone to have a good time.

Learn More About Coaches in K-12

To learn more about the important role coaches play in sports, consider these resources.

Preparing a Winning Atmosphere

A student-athlete code of conduct can help protect everyone’s rights, while also clearly stating obligations and responsibilities. It can ensure that coaches, parents, and teachers do their part in helping young athletes develop character qualities that will serve them well into adulthood. A good way to find out about developing effective athlete conduct codes is to pursue a formal education in athletic administration. Learn more with the online Master of Athletic Administration program at Ohio University.

Recommended Readings

Careers in Sports Management: How to Enter a Dynamic Field
Strategic Planning in Sports Organizations in Interscholastic Athletics
Ethical Issues in Sports and How Athletic Leaders Can Address Them

Additional Sources:

California Interscholastic Federation, CIF — High School Code of Conduct for Interscholastic Student-Athletes
Indianola Informal K-8, Columbus City School Extracurricular Code of Conduct
NCAA, Academic Standards for Initial Eligibility
Public School Review, “10 Reasons Why High School Sports Benefit Students”
ThoughtCo., “Developing a Complete Student Code of Conduct”