Integrity in Basketball Starts with Training

Integrity and ethics are powerful words. While people pay lip service to them, I don’t believe it is real and sincere. Thus I am devoted to teaching the naive young about the absolutes in life of right and wrong. It applies to virtually every area. In medicine, the ethical questions revolve around withholding treatment from the poor, making medications prohibitive for the elderly, and tampering with a fetus or stem cells. When the Nazis experimented on humans, the world sat up in horror. In business, there are issues about fair trade, behavior in meetings, honesty in advertising, and cloning existing goods.

Let’s take a look at the world of sports. I like college basketball, so I will use it as my example. There are ethical connotations to the rules of the game and, of course, the critical issue of good sportsmanship. In college football, you can’t openly dance around in the end zone after a touchdown as a way of mocking the other team. You never haze junior members of your team. Lots of other rules apply to unnecessary roughness and aggressive tackling. Basketball is not as much a contact sport, but you do need the players to respect one another and never practice a tactic that will injure someone. Poor behavior on the court or any competitive playing field is anathema. Training in ethics should be every coach’s job.

Kids don’t learn the ethics of the game on a street corner. Someone has to clue them in. Some have never heard the proviso, “let everyone take their turn.” In school, including college, letting ethics slip has serious consequences. There is no turning back if players develop bad habits including rude remarks, hitting or striking another, or quitting during a game. It is all about training from the inception of the coaching. It should be easy to teach by example and using some basketball training aids such as the ones found at to make the concepts understandable. Don’t be abstract, which often happens with ethics, but more literal and concrete. Players learn by doing and the coach should have a keen eye, commenting on positive and negative behavior.

Ethics is one of the main branches of philosophy, but it needn’t be arcane. Let the team know that it applies to everyday life in all realms. Give them some scenarios to analyze and see if they all agree. Generally, ethical principles are universal and get a consensus. There should be no see-sawing back and forth about how to interpret sports rules. Integrity should be a point of pride with everyone. The coach leads the way. It is always disheartening to find that some of the best ones have serious flaws. I find that asking students to write down what they believe are ethical precepts helps them focus and learn how to express them openly. Discussions of ethics brings the points of importance home. It is no longer some esoteric deep dark secret. It must be brought out into the open and be a normal part of athletic life.