How to Create a Code of Conduct for Youth Sports

Connie Harrington

Even in the best-run leagues, a few bad incidents can spoil a whole season. For some sports organizations, poor behavior prevents the league from growing and creates a bad reputation for sports in the community. Consider this fact: An estimated 80 percent of high school sports officials quit before their third year.

Why is this happening?

Parents and athletes are passionate about sports. Unfortunately, this passion can sometimes result in poor behavior.

Verbal and physical abuse by parents can sometimes run unchecked. Adults may complain about an official's call or yell at their child during a game. Bad behavior frustrates officials, make it hard to find volunteers, and harms young players.

Is your league prepared for angry parents or poor sportsmanship? You should be. Creating a code of conduct for youth sports is a necessity for every organization and can help reduce bad behavior.

In this post we'll provide some example codes of conduct and tips to enforce the code of conduct at your league or club.

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    A Code of Conduct (CoC) is a short document that outlines expected behaviors from everyone at your organization. You should start with an introductory paragraph that explains the purpose of the CoC and why your organization enforces it. Then you can list out expected behaviors as bullet points, followed by a section that requires parents, coaches, and athletes to acknowledge the CoC.

    You should use simple, direct language to avoid confusion from parents, athletes, or coaches.

    Parent Code of Conduct for Youth Sports

    Good behavior from parents helps ensure a positive sports experience for every athlete. That’s why you should have separate sections with specific expectations for parents, players, and coaches.

    For parents, some CoC points to consider include:

    • I will put the emotional and physical well-being of youth participants ahead of a personal desire to win.

    • I will respect players, coaches, officials, spectators, and families at all times.

    • I will respect the decisions of officials or coaches.

    • I will not engage in any violence or verbal threats or use any profanity.

    • I will not yell advice to my child during a game.

    • I will model good sportsmanship for all youth participants.

    • I will not belittle or ridicule anyone involved in a youth sporting event–in public, private, in-person, or online.

    • I will do my part to keep sports fun and positive for every youth participant.

    Parent behavior trickles down to the players and teams. By starting with the parent code of conduct you'll help to set expectations that everyone at your organization is held to high standards.

    In the second section of your Code of Conduct you should list expectations for players.

    Athlete Code of Conduct for Youth Sports

    For youth, you may be able to use some points from the parent code. A few ideas of phrases to add include in the athlete section are:

    • I will show good sportsmanship to players, coaches, officials, opponents, and parents at every game and practice.

    • I will learn the value of commitment by participating in as many practices and games as I can.

    • I will encourage my teammates and praise good efforts.

    • I will be honest, fair, and respectful to others at all times.

    • I will aim to learn all I can from sports.

    • I will arrive at practice on time and be ready to dedicate my attention to my coaches.

    You can add other points that are specific to your community or sport. Think back on issues you’ve witnessed in your league or community to help shape the right code. You can also ask coaches from your previous season for ideas on what should be in the athlete code of conduct.

    Coaches Code of Conduct for Youth Sports

    Every coach in your organization should be held to a code of conduct as well.

    A few things you can include in your Coaches Code of Conduct are:

    • I will coach with the goal of creating a positive learning experience for athletes. Winning games is secondary to building a positive youth sports experience for my players, parents of my players, and opposing teams.

    • I will follow all safety protocols of the league.

    • I will under no circumstances engage in an argument with a referee or official. Any discussions or conversations with officials or referees will be in a respectful tone.

    • I will treat opposing coaches and athletes with respect.

    • I will report any violations of the code of conduct by parents, athletes, or other coaches to the league Board of Directors.

    Requiring Parents and Athletes to Acknowledge the Code During Registration

    Having codes of conduct for adults and youth is important. But participants must agree to the codes for them to take effect.

    Include all of your Codes of Conduct in your online registration form so parents must agree when registering.

    Make sure your CoCs are on your website so they are accessible at all times. Then, you can make acknowledging and agreeing to adult and youth CoCs a mandatory registration step.

    You can have coaches review the CoC at a first team meeting as well. If any players or adults don’t have a current CoC on file, you can require them to sign one before participating in practices or games.

    Being Consistent with Enforcement

    As part of your CoC, you should outline steps the league will take to address violations. You don’t need to be heavy-handed about violations, but do take them seriously when they happen. And be consistent with consequences.

    Aim to apply the same remediation processes to everyone. Treat the newest league participant the same as your treat top fundraiser or star athlete.

    For a minor first offense, you may want to issue a verbal warning. A second offense may merit a written warning.

    Ongoing offenses or serious violations can lead to single or multi-event suspensions. And a truly grave violation can lead to ejection for the league for a season or more.

    Guidelines and specific enforcement processes should be detailed on your website or in any other materials you present to parents before the season.

    Your Code of Conduct should be easy for parents to access on your website. You can refer back to it if you need to enforce it at any point during the year.

    Always remember that everyone is human and mistakes happen. Most people will redirect unwelcome behaviors with a verbal reminder of CoC guidelines. Still, having defined escalation procedures is important to ensure fair treatment for everyone.

    Safeguarding Your League with a Code of Conduct for Youth Sports

    Has your youth league become too intense and competitive? Or are a few "bad apple" parents ruining the fun for families?

    A code of conduct is a bit like an insurance policy. You want to have one in place, but you hope not to have to use it.

    While writing and implementing a CoC isn’t the most enjoyable part of youth sports, you can’t ignore it. Creating a CoC is definitely in the best interest of your league.

    When drafting your code of conduct, be as inclusive as possible. Consult board members, parents coaches, and officials to get suggestions and ideas to improve behavior at your organization.

    An effective CoC lets you set aside worries about disruptive behaviors and allows you to stay focused on the positives of youth and community sports.

    Additional Resources

    5 Tips for Dealing with Parents in Youth Sports

    How to Teach Sportsmanship in Youth Sports

    How to Create and Manage Waivers for Youth Sports

    How to Motivate a Youth Sports Team

    5 Things Young Athletes Can Learn from Pro Athletes