Video shines national spotlight on hazing
The now infamous video captured a May 3, 2003 hazing gone awry. As onlookers, some hoisting beer cups, cheered, senior girls at a suburban Chicago high school slugged juniors and showered them with mud, garbage, paint and feces, injuring five. Fifteen students were charged with misdemeanor battery and two adults were charged with alcohol-related misdemeanors. One student faces both battery and alcohol-related charges. Thirty-one students were expelled.
The pictures are still etched in my mind. It is hard to believe that high school girls could treat their fellow students in such a humiliating and violent manner, all in the name of school ritual. Worse, unlike cases where the hazing simply got of control, the Chicago hazing incident appeared to have been planned, since it was intentionally held off school grounds, where this type of activity would not have been tolerated.
Building school spirit through rituals is a time-honored tradition at most American schools, from middle school through college. A hazing ritual is often defended as a way for people to earn their place in an organization and to build school and organizational spirit. The distorted logic of hazing apologists is that the worse a person joining the organization is treated, the better leader and performer he or she will be. The problem is that, once individuals have been violated/humiliated/physically hurt in the name of joining the organization, they are more likely to escalate the next ritual event to another level of violence and humiliation when they take on the roles of leader/perpetrator. This creates a cycle of violence, which often leads to the hazing getting out of control.
This negative fear undermines performance because the younger player will be more focused on not messing up or getting in trouble with the older player. A player unable to concentrate will not achieve optimal performance, regardless of how hard or well they have trained. The negative impact on team performance is particularly acute in those high school sports in which first year students are more likely to be on the playing field alongside seniors.
Team dynamics are important
Every parent has probably had a child on a team that does not work together. It is obvious when good team bonding doesn't exist. Certain players are left out of the flow of the game. When the ball isn't passed in basketball or a player isn't supported when batting, this type of player behavior is a telltale sign of friction on the team. This friction undermines the performance of the team and will likely cause more friction because of errors that occur on the field. Bad performance and bad communication will create even more friction on the field and in the locker room. It feeds on itself and continues to worsen.
Competitive sports are difficult enough when a team works well together. There will always be challenges to overcome; but when a team is only about individuals or about cliques, the team will not perform well under pressure on the playing field.
Once the team has been chosen, it is imperative for the leaders of the team to create a positive unit. Whether the team is chosen by tryouts or by coach selection, there is work to be done to help the team gel into a positive supportive team.
Positive team building
A team can gel in a number of ways, but it always comes from an understanding that each player is essential to the well being and high performance of the team. Recognizing that all team members may be called upon to perform on the field at a high level, it is imperative that all rituals are designed to instill trust by each player in his or her teammates.
Team building rituals should be focused on team development and not on individual embarrassment and injury. It is this area which is most likely to be abused or misunderstood. Whether the initiation ritual revolves around doing silly things like dressing up in weird clothes during school or singing amusing songs at a school assembly, the activity should not be one that creates such anger and humiliation that the young student vow to get revenge. When this type of initiation is done well it creates fun and helps all people on the team know that the new player is willing to trust the older ones to do activities which enhance the performance of the team.
Team dinners, fund raising and field improvement are all activities which help increase team bonding. One of the responsibilities of the coach is to help/teach the older leadership the power of team development and the important role they play. If the senior leadership doesn't understand this role or taught the skills to help the team goals, they are likely to resort to a style of leadership that relies on humiliation and negative reinforcement. The leadership may have fun dishing out such painful events but the results for the team will be negative.
It is easy to get caught up in the power of hazing because it looks fun for the leaders. However, when you humiliate or hurt a member of your team they will not trust you on the playing field because of the way you treated them off the field.
It is an important choice: Train a team for success by building trust and belief or train a team for disaster by focusing on negative humiliation.
Want to discuss this article? Join us in the forums!