Ethic in Coaching?

history of public relations is littered with confirmations
and allegations of unethical behavior
demonstrated by coaches and athletes. The latest firing of
Indiana University’s notorious
Bobby Knight and the suspension of baseball’s John Rocker
are two recent cases that involved
poor decision making on the part of Knight and Rocker. Professionals?
One often wonders
from what moral foundation do participants in the world of
sport chose to make their decisions
and subsequently act (1). Their ethical conduct was in question
and steps were taken to
remedy the situation.

Ethics means more than being honest and obeying the law; it
means being morally good (2). Every athlete, every coach has
to face the ethical dilemma of “What is ethics and what
should I follow ?” Knowing what is right and what is
wrong defines the boundaries of ethics.
Those involved in sport organizations need to be their own
public relations expert and make
decisions on what is best for them and their organization.
But how many of those involved in
sport know how to deal with a controversial issue, the public,
etc? Coaches and athletes need to
be educated in public relations and situations such as Bobby
Knight and John Rocker could possibly
be avoided. Managers must help their employees decide what
is right and what is wrong.
But how and where do we begin?

The bottom line with regard to ethics rests within the “Golden
Rule”: Treat others in the
way you would like to be treated. This concept is not new.
The principles that shape ethical
conduct have remained constant while people have chosen to
manipulate those principles in
ways which foster self-promotion and self-aggrandizement (3).
Coaches and athletes should 1 be the most ethical persons
in an organization. The public and all of its people are constantly
and scrutinizing sport organizations. Sport organizations
are in the public eye and the
public should demand nothing less than professionalism from
its athletes and coaches.

Everyone knows that athletes and coaches are role models.
Any prospective coach or athlete
should be aware of and strive to produce positive images and
public relations for the sake of
the sport organization and the community. How a coach proceeds
in developing a relationship with
the media and the public is vital. High profile athletes and
coaches should realize that public
relations is a major part of their job. Literature points
to the fact that coaches need to communicate
their role in society with various groups. Standards and tenets
should be used as a guideline
to help develop ethical behavior.

is ethics” and how a coach should go about developing
a sound ethical sports program
poses a dilemma to any rookie coach or manager. Whose ethics
to follow is often in question.
How does one choose? Mark McElreath has identified five factors
that one should consider
in developing ethical behavior. Sound ethics can enhance one’s
athletic program and give a
solid foundation on which to stand and build.

Ethics is defined by Mark McElreath as “a set of criteria
by which decisions are made about what is right and what is
wrong.” The most ethical person in a sport organization
should be the coach. How a coach should develop ethical behavior
begins by looking at five factors:

  1. Tradition
    Ways in which the situation has been viewed or handled in
    the past.
  2. Public Currently acceptable behavior according to the majority
    of one and Opinion their peers.
  3. Law Behaviors that are permissible and those that are prohibited
    by legislation.
  4. Morality Generally, a spiritual or religious prohibition.
    Immorality is a charge usually leveled in issues on which
    religious teachings have concentrated.
  5. Ethics Standards set by the profession, an organization,
    or oneself, based on conscience-what is right or fair to
    others as well as to self (6).

The world of sports is bound by rules and is very fragile
in the face of the moral quest for
betterment. Those people in a position of sport leadership
must possess a strong sense of priorities,
purpose and ethics for themselves and their programs. The
sport participants and the
sport should begin with looking at the coach and the five
moral obligations a coach should possess:

  1. To ourselves-to preserve our own integrity.
  2. To our athletes-to honor their contracts and to use our
    professional expertise on our athletes behalf.
  3. To our sport organization-to adhere to organizational goals
    and policies.
  4. To our profession and our professional colleagues-to uphold
    the standards of the profession and, by extension, the reputation
    of our fellow practitioners.
  5. To society-to consider social needs and claims (7).

Moral obligations could be considered controversial, yet they
are the basis for beginning to establish a noble and virtuous
career as a coach. The explicit goal of all competitive sports
is to
win within the rules. When athletic participants engage in
competition for its inherent pleasure,
generally very few problems based upon ethical conduct emerges

Any derivation from the inherent pleasures of simple participation
intensifies the pressure
to win therein influencing the ethical constraints in decision-making,
risking the loss of important
“teachable moments” which make sport the educational
tool it can be. Lumpkin (1990)
states: When winning becomes the primary objective, other
potential outcomes are lost.

are usually the ones initially caught up in this win-at-all
cost attitude. To fulfill their own
ego needs, coaches too often pressure their young players
to play while injured, to violate the
rules to their advantage, and to quit if they are not good
enough (9).

When the outcome becomes so highly significant that some or
all of the participants employ whatever means possible to
achieve success, then the questionable behavior is covertly
or overtly employed, to the detriment of values and sound
character, and the ideals of sport.

interscholastic sport managers and coaches are faced with
more and more difficulty in making ethical decisions and appear
to be distancing themselves away from a solid foundation for
ethical decisions.

A solid foundation begins with building the five factors for
ethical behavior and moral obligations.
The adoptions of these five factors could be the beginning
of something positive for sports.
If moral and ethical values are to result from athletic programs
then coaches must emphasize

One might question if ethics in sport should have principles
and values. The principles speak largely to character development,
not the accumulation of victories. Four tenets have been identified
and linked to modern sports. These tenets intertwine sport’s
ideals and ethics. Each tenet
sustains the inherent and traditional values of sports, reinforcing
the “goodness” of the experience.

  1. Athletes must always be considered ends and not means (10).
  2. The competition must be fair (11).
  3. Participation, leadership, resources, and rewards must be
    based on achievement rather than ascribed characteristics
  4. The activity must provide for the relative safety of the
    participants (13).

four tenets draw from the fields of religion, philosophy and
psychology, valuesthat serve as a foundation of a way of life.
Coaches are expected to conduct themselves in accordance with
certain values or moral standards. Sport ethics should concentrate
on how moral standards apply to sport policies, institutions
and behaviors. It is presumed that standards of ethics
are not innate but are acquired or learned through models
and various life experiences. If they
are learnable, then they are teachable.

Ethical behavior in sport oftentimes requires incredible moral
courage, meaning the resolve
to cohere to one’s values in unsavory times, to resist pressures
from short-term actions not in
the team’s or institution’s long-term best interests. The
weight to conform to “politically correct”
statements and positions outweighs the necessity to express
unpopular opinions or ideas.

Numerous professional organizations provide both general principles
and rules to cover most
situations that need an immediate decision. A Code of ethics
are a common set of values upon
which coaches build their professional work. It is the individual
responsibility of each coach
to aspire to the highest possible standards of conduct. Coaches
respect and protect human and civil rights, and do not knowingly
participate in or condone unfair discriminatory practices.

the professionalism in coaching can be accomplished by following
a code of ethics.
The role of the coach is viewed by various groups in the public.
The code of ethics not only
involves dealings with athletes, but other groups as well.
The coaches family, faculty, community
agencies, other coaches and the news media extend beyond the
gyms and fields. A positive
view should be presented as a coach is a public figure. How
the coach views and deals with
situations is based on his ethics.

Coaching professionals must recognize that while a decision
can be made alone, the effects
of the decision may be far reaching and can reflect on the
integrity of the individual who made
the decision and on his/her organization. The professional
must ask themselves questions to
consider in order to maintain an ethically principle-centered
perspective in a decision-making process:

  • Do I/we have all the information they need? Do I/we need
    to speak to someone else, such as the legal staff, to obtain
    what is needed?
  • What
    are possible options? Are they legal? Do they violate any
    federal, state,
    district, or league organizational policy or standard?
  • Do the options support my/our values and personal ethics?
    Can I/we justify
    them in the light of my/our values and business ethics?
    If not, the option probably is not ethical.
  • What are the short-term and long-term consequences of each
    option? Who or what does each option benefit? Who or what
    does each option harm?
  • Am/Are I/we still comfortable with the options? How will
    they be perceived by
    others? Could they embarrass any party(ies) involved?

After professionals weigh the options against their ethical
standards, they are ready to make their decision and share
it with those involved. The leader or coach must make sure
they conceptualize and articulate the decision so that subordinates
view it as consistent with their stated shared values and
ethics. The leader cannot completely protect themselves and
their programs from the unethical behavior of associates and
related other parties, but they can build into
their programs a strong ethical foundation that will keep
themselves and their organization strong
in both good times and bad.

A part of becoming a professional is adherence to the highest
organizational and personal ethical
standards. Leaders as well as followers in any group must
establish the ethical tone for the
organization. If leaders at all levels, junior high to college,
choose to act beyond reproach, reward
correct behavior, and refuse to tolerate wrong doing, there
is a much greater chance that the
entire organization will behave ethically.


  1. Reilly, R. (1995). Putting it in writing. Sports Illustrated,
    82 (2), 64, p1.
  2. Baskin, O, Aronoff, C & Lattimore, D. (1997). Public
    Relations: The Profession
    and the Practice (4th ed). Madison: Brown and Benchmark.
  3. Petersen, D. (1968). The Clinical Study of Social Behavior.
    Englewood Cliffs,
    N.J.: Prentice Hall, p 32.
  4. Staffo, D. (1989). Enhancing Coach-Media Relations. Journal
    of Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, v60, n7,p25-27.
  5. Giamatti, A. (1989). Take time for paradise. New York: Summit
  6. ibid 2
  7. Bivins, T. (1992). A Systems model for ethical decision
    making in public rela-
    tions. Public Relations Review (Winter 1992) p. 375.
  8. Beisser, A.R. (1967). The madness in sports. New York: Appleton-Century-
  9. Lumpkin, A. (1990). Physical education and sport: A contemporary
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  10. Merriman, J. Hill, J. (1992). Ethics, law and sport. Journal
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    Sport, 2(2), 56-63.
  11. Jones, B., Wells, L., Peters, R., and Johnson, D. (1988).
    Guide to effective
    coaching principles and practice. Newton, MA: Allyn and
  12. Coakley, J. (1994). Sport in society: Issues and controversies.
    St. Louis:
    Mosby Publishers.
  13. Conn, J. (1997). Legal concepts and court finding in kinesiological
    Unpublished Manuscript. Warrensburg, MO: Central Missouri
    State University
  14. Donald, L. (1988). The media and the coach, again. Today’s
    Coach, 10(6), 2-3.