Setting expectations from the get-go makes it easier when tough situations arise
| 4 min read
Having a code of conduct for your flag football players, parents, and coaches is sort of like having an oxygen mask in an airplane — you don’t want to use it, but it’s good to know it’s there.
Take it from Tony Palumbo Jr., an NFL Flag Football coach and commissioner of the local league in Wilton, Connecticut. He’s learned the value of a formal code in his 15 years of coaching both tackle and flag football.
NFL Flag doesn’t have an official code of conduct, but it does recommend that each league creates its own for players, parents, coaches and even officials. That means each code is different, but there are certain common themes.
The latest iteration of Palumbo’s player code of conduct covers basics, like arriving to practice and games on time, as well as behavior, from being disciplined during practice to no profanity.
At the coach level, the code is similar, and includes other pledges about instilling teamwork, promoting the spirit of competition over playing for a trophy and not running up the score when you have a lead, as well as clear rules around not using tobacco, alcohol and other substances at practices and games.
Palumbo admits that, though his league had a code, it took him a while to start enforcing it.
“It took four or five years before I really started using it properly,” he said. “You can get yourself in trouble because you’re trying to make a decision yourself … until you realize when you’re dealing with infractions that bringing in the code and getting your board involved makes it easier.”
Last season, Palumbo used the code for two suspensions. One involved a player who had three years of bad behavior during games and practices, much of it documented. The other involved a coach at the kindergarten level who cursed on the field at another coach. With documentation, and the code’s backing, the coach was suspended for the season, Palumbo says.
“Whatever the scenario, the code of conduct is your tool as a league organizer to help that player, parent or coach fix their behavior immediately or risk suspension from the league,” he says.
First off, you should have a code because you’ll use it.
“I would say there’s a code of conduct violation for every single team, every single practice by one of the players,” says Palumbo.
Most incidents don’t escalate beyond the team level but the code allows a coach to issue a warning (or, if a coach violates the code, to check their own behavior).
A code also sets expectations early on and holds everyone accountable.
At the beginning of the season, everyone signs the code to accept its provisions, and Palumbo also sends a copy out again just to remind people of what they’ve agreed to. This makes life easier for coaches and league officials.
“If it’s used properly, [a code] prevents losing good coaches and attracts coaches back because they’re protected,” he says. “Otherwise, you have coaches who leave after one season because of a bad experience or a league that’s not supporting you.”
A code is about more than just calling out misbehavior, though. It’s about reminding everyone involved that playing is a privilege.
Palumbo cites the real-life coach Kenny Ray Carter (featured in the movie Coach Carter), who reminded his team not to take playing for granted.
“In his mind, it’s a privilege to play or coach or watch as a parent or even to serve as an organizer, so you have to follow a code of conduct,” Palumbo says. “Risking the loss of being able to play, coach, or watch the game, usually keeps everyone in line.”