“Don’t do anything to embarrass yourself, your family, or the team.”

These types of statements are used by many athletic programs as the basis for their standards of behavior.  Though there can be a strong case for these type of generic standards being superior to a list of rules, it would be naive to believe that some coaches also favor the ambiguity of these types of standards for behavior.  The advantage (at least to some coaches) to these types of general statements is the broad range of interpretation and the broad range of enforcement.  They follow the old adage of “don’t back yourself into a corner” or “always leave yourself some wiggle room” when it comes to standards of behavior.  The coaches that subscribe solely to this type of philosophy are attracted to the subjectivity of these types of standards for behavior instead of the the draw the line in the sand type of philosophy of more concrete standards.  

Personally, I always felt these general types of statements were beneficial as long as they were also backed up by a specific set of standards for behavior…your non-negotiables.  Without the inclusion of these non-negotiables, I believe these general types of statements can often be used by coaches who prefer a lower level of accountability…Coaches who don’t want to have to apply rules equally to everyone for whatever reason.  Unfortunately, some coaches are afraid they may be forced to discipline their best player, the school board or administrators son/daughter, or the son/daughter of a booster club member if they have a set of specific behavior standards because if it’s in writing, you may have to enforce it.  Though you probably will not find many coaches who would admit to this type of thinking, I believe we would all be very naive to believe this isn’t the motivation for some generic, subjective standards for behavior.  In my opinion, you can’t build a championship culture without a set of non-negotiable standards.  By non-negotiable, I mean there will be consequences if these standards are violated.

With this being said, because of the lack of flexibility in these standards, they must be well thought out and of the utmost importance to a coach’s belief in what it takes to build the culture the coach wants.  Once these standards are established, it is crucial that all involved with the program understand the expectations and that all will be held accountable.  At White Oak, once football season was complete, our teams never took the court until I had covered our standards of expectations with everyone involved.  Even in years when we had extended football seasons, and we were already feeling squeezed on time, I never made an exception to covering these standards on the first day that we had all of our high school players together for the first time.  Consequently, once I had covered these standards, we would all be held accountable.  Without a doubt, it is the accountability and enforcement of the standards for behavior that create the culture.  Once your non-negotiables are established and all involved know there will be accountability, the decision making becomes much easier…your standards make the decision for you, regardless of circumstances or people involved.  Initially, the enforcement of these standards can lead to confrontational situations until a pattern of consistency and fairness is established and for this reason, coaches must understand they may lose players who do not want to meet the standards.  For this reason, as I stated earlier, a coach must make sure the non-negotiables are well thought out and worth you putting your cleats in the ground.  

At White Oak, our non-negotiables were centered around our 5 program standards of being accountable, responsible, trustworthy, disciplined, and respectful.  These were explained in detail in the blog entry entitled “Measure Up”.  Any violation of the standards are deemed to be unacceptable and subject to consequences.  Below, I have included some of the specific non-negotiables that are incorporated into these standards.  Obviously, these examples do not cover every scenario that may have occurred within our program but they eliminate the subjectivity to many of the most common situations that come up.

                                                                                      White Oak Basketball

                                                                                        Program Standards

  1. BE ACCOUNTABLE – Players are expected to attend all practices and games unless excused.  SAC or school suspension is an unexcused absence.  Repeated unexcused absences or tardies are grounds for suspension and possible dismissal from the team. At minimum,  all athletes are expected to meet the academic requirements of the UIL. Habitual grade problems are grounds for suspension or dismissal from the team.  All players are expected to do their best.
  2. BE RESPONSIBLE –  In order to be considered excused, the coach must be notified of the absence in advance.  Players will be required to make up all practices missed with a maximum of 3 practices for extended illness or injury.  Excused absences will require the player to make up the conditioning missed with a minimum of 3 mavericks.  Unexcused absences will demand the following:  15 Mavericks under time.  Players will not dress for games until unexcused absences are cleared.  Unexcused tardies will depend on circumstances and time missed with a minimum of 3 mavericks.  After school detention is an unexcused tardy and carries a penalty of 5 mavericks.
  3.  BE TRUSTWORTHY – Players are responsible for their school issued equipment.  Non-school issued equipment should not be worn except for undershirts which may be White Oak basketball shirts or a plain white, grey, or maroon t-shirt.  Violations of equipment standards carry a penalty of 3 mavericks.  The locker code is as follows:  (1) all cloth should be hung up  (2) Only shoes in the bottom of locker.  Shoes should be flat.  (3) Personal items , notebooks, ankle braces, etc. should be kept in the top of lockers. Players should maintain the locker code after each practice or game.
  4. BE DISCIPLINED – Discipline problems in the classroom, community, or within the team will not be tolerated.  The first offense will carry a penalty of extra conditioning.  The second offense will be extra conditioning and a one game suspension.  The third offense will be an indefinite suspension or possible dismissal from the team. The student handbook and athletic code of conduct must be adhered to at all times.  Any flagrant technical foul carries a penalty of 8 mavericks for the team.  The coach is the only person that says anything to the officials.
  5. BE RESPECTFUL:  Players should not enter the equipment room or coaches’ office without permission.  All players are required to see their coach after games and workouts before leaving.

STUDENT SIGNATURE  _____________ PARENT SIGNATURE ________________

All practices are “closed” for the purpose of eliminating distractions and securing a teachable atmosphere.  During practice hours, parents should only enter the gym or dressing area in emergency situations.


There is no doubt in my mind that during my 25 year tenure at White Oak, there were kids walking the halls that could have helped our team on the court but they did not want to meet the standards for our program.  In fact, I can recall the following words of advice from one of the coaches on our staff (in regards to 2 players who were definitely varsity players as far as talent but were being required to play on the JV for a year) as he passed by me in the hall one day during my 1st year, “If you’d just relax a few of your rules, you’d improve your team.”  I knew what he meant and I’d be lying if I said I was not tempted and questioned whether or not I was doing it the right way.  

Ironically, I was single at the time and spent a lot of time at my parents house.  While describing this scenario with my parents one night, I can remember the words of my mom, “Be who you are and do what you know is right.”  I learned something that night…only consider advice from those that have your best interest at heart.  Her words stay with me to this day.  

Thanks for reading and Coach With A Purpose!