by Michael Riggs, M.Ed.
Rules have a purpose. [Rules are arbitrary]. Rules keep order. [Rules are the root cause of disorder]. Rules give members parameters within which they function. [Rules restrict players’ creativity and undermine performance]. Rules give structure. [Rules bind]. Rules must be maintained at all times. [Rules should be applied sparingly]. Rules are the foundations for greatness. [Rules have never led to a championship].
All groups — from families of four to teams of forty to civilizations of four million — rely on structure and order to develop and maintain a sense of direction. Rules are the very fiber that sustain order. Without order, there may be existence in its most basic form, but there wouldn’t be growth and development. Rules, at their functional best, are created by the people within the organization that will be responsible for adherence and safeguarding. Within the arrangement of an athletic team, should the rules be laws that are set-in-stone or are they general guidelines that players and coaches should follow to keep the team rolling along in a smooth manner?
As coaches, this answer is directly tied to your philosophy of coaching. You may, for example, feel that one of your fundamental purposes is to teach your players that “all players are equal regardless of skill level.” Subsequently, your rules would be more permanent and less malleable. If a standout player misses a practice or breaks a team rule, then the penalty will apply – even if it means he must miss a key game against a key opponent and the team’s chances of winning are significantly reduced. The rule precedes all situations and will be adhered to at all times.
However, fundamental to your philosophy of coaching may be that “sport is seldom cut and dry, and our primary goal is to win games.” In this setting, a case-by-case governing policy would be applied and the rules would be upheld or overruled based upon how the team’s success would be affected. This method is clearly one of relativity.
Both of these rule enforcement styles, as well as scores that haven’t been discussed, have merit and function. What is at issue here is that coaches need to realize that they must remain consistent and that their policy has both direct and indirect ramifications upon the field of play. The coach that sets clear and distinct rules, and applies them equitably, is creating an atmosphere of discipline and fairness within his team. This has clear benefits as it allows all players and coaches to know what to expect and removes the “But, I didn’t know” and “C’mon coach, just this one time” excuses from player’s repertoire. It also reduces relativity and increases accountability. This policy, however, may also create an atmosphere of extreme rigidity and inflexibility that could flow over onto the field of play and downgrade the players’ abilities to “let it fly and play loose.” Great performers do not like to be caged.
The program that functions within a more liaise faire setting may have a distinct advantage in that players and coaches can spend their time and energy focusing upon preparing for competition and are less distracted by petty team rules. Nothing will pull a team off course more quickly than the minutia of rule infraction, enforcement and distraction. Conversely, at a primary level all exceptional players, coaches, and teams are founded upon rock-solid fundamentals. It could be argued that fundamentals are rules, and avoiding rules is tantamount to avoiding fundamentals. Playing loose is vital when it comes to playing at a championship level, but playing too loose transforms into sloppiness very quickly.
As a coaching staff and as an organization, rules and the subsequent enforcement policy should be discussed, drafted and communicated, in advance, to all members of the team. It is imperative that the rules and enforcement policy reflect the philosophy of the coaches and the program and that penalties be doled out with consistency and in a swift manner. However, it is equally important that the program’s policies govern and encourage a flow of teamwork, excitement, discipline, and accountability and they don’t act as a noose that strangles creativity and greatness.
Make solid team rules based upon your goals and stick to them with sturdy resolve. Above, all else, do not have nonsensical rules, as they will undermine your team’s success.
In Another’s Words…
“There is no point at which you can say, “Well, I’m successful now. I might as well take a nap.””
– Carrie Fisher, actress, writer