As I’ve suggested in previous posts, it’s essential that the ethics and morals of ‘good clean sport’ are taught, learned and practice. And no better place exists than in the training session. Being a “good sport’’, is no longer simply a trite English public school image of ‘jolly good, old sport’! Instead it’s at the heart of how we wish to play the game.
So when we get past the unopposed part of the practice and start to introduce defence or an opponent, we currently ensure the physical, technical and tactical elements of competition are practiced with increasing intensity to game pitch. So why not also introduce the conflict or challenge situations where matters could take a dark turn and with increasing intensity?
Tennis - simulate a specific scoreline against a specific opponent say deuce or advantage to the opponent. Coach calls ’out’ when it is clearly ‘in’. Video replay is not available, therefore the umpire is correct. Is it possible to simulate the feeling in the player of a call going against; seemingly unfairly? Keep practicing that simulation. It seems likely that some of the (mostly male) dysfunctional behaviour on a tennis court is a product of the player never having learned how to respond when things go wrong.
Weightlifting - in squad session, role-play the lifter who is using steroids and offers them to your lifter ‘just to try’’. How will the young athlete feel about refusing amongst peers? Similarly, offer a supplement drink; "it’s completely safe – don’t worry and it will help your recovery”. Doping rules are based on the principle of ‘strict liability’, i.e. you alone are responsible for what goes into your body.
Cricket – simulate the match-fixing approach at the bar. Many ‘fixed’ matches are in lower divisions of the sport. So don’t think the illegal bookies are only interested in the top players.
Teaching and learning are repetitive practises. Situations need to be repeated time and again to refine and modify athlete and coach behaviour. The question then arises, ‘does this work?’ Research suggests it can and does. Substantial research on university student cheating starts from the premise that the cheat aims to obtain some form of personal advantage. To most of us, the cheat breaches norms of fairness and justice. Sport and academic study are simply two forms of human endeavour. Behaviour crosses endeavour boundaries. In other words, if we cheat at sport, there’s a strong likelihood that we cheat elsewhere.
Research seems to suggest that students who take classroom ethics courses that include instruction, are less likely to cheat. Importantly, however, students with a strong religious background, seem on average, even less likely to cheat. Now this is important, not from a religious perspective, but from a view that says our children’s upbringing is massively influential and likely person-specific on a starting point when the young athlete is presented with the opportunity to cheat. For those without that sort of background, all is not lost. They have more room to grow i.e. to change: and it’s the visible evidence that someone has changed that can influence others.
This is a field ripe for study. Knowing what works and what works better is critical information for coaches. Like other forms of teaching, not all ethics training works in the same way for all athletes. Sometimes not at all. And to that point, we should be cognisant that while cheating in sport is recognisable to us all, why an athlete cheated is less obvious. Sport psychology and sport psychologists have much to offer. The coach, however, is a central figure in the life of an athlete. Do we include ethics modules in coach education? And if so, are they based on best evidence of what works and for who it works? And even if you never go on a coach education course, do you seek out information and advice on what will help your athletes be more ethical with the same enthusiasm you seek out a new technical training drill?
Simulation training is not new. Chesley ‘’Sully” Sullenberger would not have succeeded in bringing US Airways 1549 safely down on the Hudson river without his and the air traffic controller’s simulation training! That seemed to work.
(picture source: Richard Mia)