Hazing In Sport – A Briefing

Hazing in sport has been an ongoing issue, from the youth to elite levels, for many years. As Dr. John Heil says, “any and all athletes are vulnerable to hazing” (Heil, 2016), and it can be a traumatizing experience for those involved. Many athletes refer to hazing as “team-building” and “tradition”, while studies have shown that hazing can decrease team cohesion rather than improve it (Van Raalte et al., 2007). Professionals, parents, coaches, and athletes all should be informed about how to recognize and prevent hazing, and how to reduce hazing in sport.

According to Waldron (n.d.), hazing can diminish an athlete’s confidence by promoting self-doubt, depression, low self-esteem, and in the worst-case scenario, suicidal thoughts.

Some athletes think that hazing creates a group identity.

Fact: Research shows that group identity is established when the athlete joins the team (Van Raalte et al., 2007). Hazing does not build attraction to the group.

Some athletes claim that hazing is a tradition that builds character (Smith & Stellino, 2007).

Fact: New players may feel pressured into hazing if they want to be accepted by the older players on the team. This may be driven by a “sport think” phenomenon cultivated by veteran players, producing fear and persuasion. Once the new players become veterans, they often maintain the perspective of valuing hazing and create the cycle of hazing.

Why Does Hazing Happen?

When new athletes are introduced to a team, promoting a positive and constructive environment is key to a fluid transition. When this outcome is not achieved, harsh exclusion and hazing may take place. Given the inherent need for belonging and acceptance by the “in-group,” athletes may be vulnerable to hazing (Maslow, 1971). Many may succumb to the hazing ‘sport think” phenomenon and overlook potential consequences and risks. To justify these hazing behaviors to themselves, individuals frame them in a positive way through displaced responsibility, attribution of blame, and diffusion of responsibility (Heil, 2016).

What You Can Do: Strategies to Reduce Hazing in Sport

(This briefing was originally published under the American Psychological Association Division 47 on the Virginia Commonwealth Games Sport Hazing Awareness Site.  For full literature, please visit their website.  Reprinted with permission.)


  • Hamilton, R., Scott, D., LaChapelle, D., & O’Sullivan L. (2016). Applying social cognitive theory to predict hazing perpetration in university athletics. Journal of Sport Behavior, 39(3), 255-277.
  • Heil, J. (2016). Sport advocacy; Challenge, controversy, ethics and action. Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology, 5(4), 281-295.
  • Kirby, S. L., & Wintrup, G. (2002). Running the gauntlet: An examination of initiation/hazing and sexual abuse in sport, Journal of Sexual Aggression, 8(2), 29-68.
  • Maslow, A. M. (1971). The Farther reaches of human nature. New York: Viking Press.
  • Smith, H., & Stellino, M.B. (2007). Cognitive dissonance in athletic hazing: The roles of commitment and athletic identity. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 29, 169-170.
  • Van Raalte, J.L. Cornelius, A.E., Linder, D.E., & Brewer. B.W. (2007). The relationship between hazing and team cohesion. Journal of Sport Behavior, 30(4), 491-507.
  • Waldron, J. Reducing hazing in sport teams, http://www.appliedsportpsych.org/resources/resources-for-coaches/reducing-hazing-in-sport-teams/.

ISCA Coach Education Program

We are thrilled that after about a year of production and development, the ISCA Education Program has officially launched!

The program is available online internationally and features evidence-based curriculum developed by sport scientists specifically for swim coaches. Our modern education portal is easy to navigate and secure, with transcript tracking and interactive course content.

ISCA Certification is available for coaches that are ISCA members and also complete the six core science-based courses (Biomechanics 101 & 102, Physiology 101 & 102, and Sport Psychology 101 & 102). The science behind swimming is something that all coaches need to understand to be effective and successful–and we look forward to providing this crucial piece of education to coaches around the world.

Get started today on the ISCA Education Portal: https://isca.courselaunch.com/

Learn more about ISCA Education: https://swimisca.org/education/

Get the details on ISCA Certification: https://swimisca.org/education/certification/

Demo an ISCA course: https://swimisca.org/courses/demo18/content/

Swimming Coach Education

Take home points on Swimming Coach Education
1) Little formal structure exists to develop coaches in the United States.
2) Education programs are critical for coaching to gain respect as a profession, which will help advance swimming performance.
3) Better swimming coach education is key, but intrinsic motivation is the most important factor.

“It is the coach’s responsibility to balance the intensity of psychological and physiological stress in such a way that the swimmer achieves optimal performance, to provide an environment that is conducive to positive motivation of the swimmers, to have a thorough knowledge of training methods and stroke mechanics, to communicate enthusiasm to the athletes, and to cooperate in a team effort with other personnel, such as the managerial staff, the sports publicity department, and support personnel (Counsilman 1986)”.

Coaching is often described as a “profession” rather than merely a “job,” and rightly so. With insanely long hours, a highly varied skill set, total commitment, and the potential to shape lives of young athletes, the coaching profession is one of the most important elements in all sports, not only swimming. But despite the position of influence in the sport, many would agree the pipeline for future coaches is often haphazard.

Now, the lack of a formal pipeline for coaching is neither good nor bad; it simply describes the current state. On-the-job learning opportunities that predominate the coaching pipeline are more important than book knowledge. Back in the old days, on-the-job training was called the apprenticeship system, and historically has worked very well for numerous professions. Yet, what’s wrong with an infrastructure that values BOTH book knowledge and practical experience in coaching development?

To their credit, ASCA and USA Swimming have increased swimming coach educational resources for coaches and made the process more efficient with online offerings, minimizing the need for time away from your squad. Despite this evolution, it is possible the real issue is not swimming coach education, but overall culture. We addressed some of these issues in previous articles Coaching Burnout and Coaching Opportunities for Females. In particular, the survivalist culture that shapes the athlete side is also reflected in coaching development.

While national bodies can provide resources, ultimately motivation from the coaching side must exist. However, it is no secret that many young coaches enter the field without the intention to become coaches and are merely putting in some time until finding another job. In a study of 469 USA Swimming age group coaches, Raedke (2002) found that “less attractive options” was one of the motivating forces for coaches surveyed. But on a positive note, they did find a significant relationship linking satisfaction and investment with commitment (“You get out of it what you put into it,” as the old adage goes). It is true that the long hours of coaching are not for everyone, but intrinsic motivation is the driving force in anyone’s desire to improve their craft.

Conclusion on Swimming Coach Education

One reason for the birth and subsequent growth of this site has been to bridge the gap between formal science (which is often seen as distant from the “real world”) and best practices on the pool deck. As Williams (2007) noted in a survey of elite coaches (not only swimming) respondents, “perceived a need for more research in the area of sports psychology, dissemination of research findings via coaching clinics and sports-specific magazines, and the use of more appropriate “lay” language in information dissemination.”

Ultimately, the key for continued long term development in the coaching profession is for both the demand and supply sides to intersect: coaches must enter the system with a keen desire to learn and the system must create the right learning opportunities for success both for coaches and swimmers.

1) Williams SJ, Kendall L. Perceptions of elite coaches and sports scientists of the research needs for elite coaching practice. J Sports Sci. 2007 Dec;25(14):1577-86.
2) Raedeke TD, Warren AH, Granzyk TL. Coaching commitment and turnover: a comparison of current and former coaches. Res Q Exerc Sport. 2002 Mar;73(1):73-86.
3) Counsilman JE. The role of the coach in training for swimming. Clin Sports Med. 1986 Jan;5(1):3-7.

Written by Allan Phillips is a certified strength and conditioning specialist (CSCS) and owner of Pike Athletics. He is also an ASCA Level II coach and USA Triathlon coach. Allan is a co-author of the Troubleshooting System and was selected by Dr. Mullen as an assistant editor of the Swimming Science Research Review. He is currently pursuing a Doctorate in Physical Therapy at US Army-Baylor University.

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