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Locker Room Supervision is Key Factor in Hazing Prevention

By Peg Pennepacker, CAA on October 28, 2020 hst Print

Hazing continues to be an issue of concern in high school athletics programs and one of the most highly litigated claims against school districts and athletic personnel. Courts typically impose liability either because of the failure to create an anti-hazing policy or for developing one which is substantively inadequate or ineffectively implemented.

In addition to inadequate policy development and implementation, increased litigation in recent years has occurred for schools failing to provide adequate and appropriate – both specific and general – supervision of student-athletes particularly in areas such as locker rooms.

Experts state that hazing is more likely to occur in locker rooms and most of the nation’s 20,000-plus high schools across the country generally do not have policies requiring locker room supervision. Rules, requirements or recommendations for adult supervision in locker rooms are typically local decisions. Schools often do not have anything in place until there is a problem – typically after a hazing incident has occurred. In many cases, lack of adult supervision may reflect administrative fear that grown-ups in the locker room could prey on children or face accusations to that effect.

Recent hazing cases, which have involved teams in unsupervised locker rooms and gained much national attention, clearly demonstrate that school officials need to take seriously the manner in which they train and require athletic coaches to supervise the locker rooms that their teams use.

Coaches have a duty to supervise all areas where there are student- athletes – on the field, in the gym, in the pool, on the bus, in areas where student-athletes gather after a practice or game and in the locker room. Increased supervision, while it might not totally eradicate hazing, would clearly help to keep student-athletes safe and obedient in their environment.

During these times of COVID-19 when locker rooms may be unused or used with limitations, it is a good time to collaborate with athletic personnel and school administration to develop and implement an adequate locker room supervision plan. In addition to creating and putting a plan in place, the following is a non-exhaustive list of tips for athletic directors and coaches to consider:

What Athletic Directors Can Do:

  • Routinely talk to coaches and hold specific conversations with coaches about their responsibilities concerning important and difficult topics. Let coaches know that you are paying attention and that you care. It is a duty of all athletic personnel to take prudent steps in order to keep student-athletes safe.
  • Describe the expectations to coaches regarding appropriate locker room supervision. Clearly explain to coaches that the locker room is not the worst place to be.
  • Check-in on coaches. Be visible. Conduct routine “walkthroughs” to ensure that they are fulfilling their responsibilities.
  • Meet regularly with struggling coaches. Find the opportunities to meet with coaches who may not understand or embrace the concept of supervision in the locker room as well as other aspects of their job.
  • Provide training to coaches and athletic personnel or any persons supervising the locker room. There has been a surge in failure-to-train liability claims nationwide and there is an expectation that coaches receive regular training in all aspects of their coaching duties. Train your staff to recognize the signs of hazing and provide the elements of proper locker room supervision.
  • Review the school district’s hazing policy at every coaches meeting and continue to educate coaches about hazing. There should be a zero-tolerance for hazing in any athletic program. Send a clear message that hazing will not be tolerated.
  • Provide support for coaches, since more responsibilities are being placed upon them. This step, therefore, becomes increasingly important.
  • Meet and collaborate with the physical education staff to map out strategies for locker room supervision.
  • Set the tone for safety in the locker room along with providing rules and a plan for supervision.
  • Begin with yourself and analyze what you believe. What do you stand for? Remember, that what we allow, we condone.

What Coaches Can Do:

  • Implement expectations regarding locker room behavior and decorum as part of the routine planning process.
  • Be visible and be a presence. Supervision minimizes bad behavior.
  • Be vocal and define the expectations for student-athlete behavior.
  • Listen carefully and this means being aware of what is going on in the locker room.
  • Liken locker rooms to classrooms. Teachers should not leave students alone in a classroom, so it should not be permissible in a locker room.
  • Demonstrate foresight and leadership in order to limit the risks in the locker room.
  • Be responsible for knowing what is happening with their teams, regardless of supervision policies.
  • Seek assistance from the athletic director if they are struggling with the process.

Tips and Techniques:

  • Develop a rotating plan for supervising the locker room involving the entire coaching staff.
  • The person or persons supervising should circulate and scan the locker room in an irregular pattern in an attempt to see and hear what is going on. An irregular pattern will make it more difficult for student-athletes to try to hide something. Reasonable supervision does not mean that coaches or other athletic personnel must continually observe every student at all times.
  • If possible, assign an out-of-season coach to assist with locker room monitoring and supervision.
  • Hire a monitor to supervise the locker room similarly as the building principal would do for other areas of the school. This may be important especially where there is an all-male coaching staff coaching a female team and vice-versa.
  • Utilize equipment managers, school security personnel or other school personnel when possible to assist in monitoring and supervising locker rooms.
  • Institute an “all-in and all-out” plan in the locker room supervision process requiring all student-athletes to enter and exit the locker room all at the same time with the coaching staff.
  • Develop and present a locker room supervision plan to your school board to promote “buy-in” of the plan. This moves you one-step closer toward eliminating hazing in your athletic program.

Athletic directors and coaches can take a leadership role by making a commitment to change the culture of the school’s athletic program. If you can also ensure a “buy-in” and commitment from the administration and school board, you would have the catalyst needed to begin moving to the mindset of creating an environment of trust, respect and sincere concern.

Resources:

National Federation of State High School Associations – www.nfhslearn.com.
Stop Hazing www.stophazing.org
Hazing Preventions www.hazingprevention.org
MCPS Athletics Supervision Action Plan https://d1dph1psyatsfa.cloudfront.net/bethesdamagazi/wpcontent/uploads/2019/03/MCPS...
ACP-C Supervision and Locker Room Plan https://s3-uswest-2.amazonaws.com/.../77/2012/03/27203309/ACP-Full-Supervision- Plan.pdf Locker Rooms: Monitoring and Supervision caha.com/safesport/docs/Quick_Reference_-_Locker_Room_Monitoring.pdf
U.S. Center for Safe Sport https://www.safesport.org
Proactive Coaching www.proactivecoaching.info