The next time you order from Amazon.com take a good look at the box. That arrow in the logo that connects “A” to “Z” doubles as a smile with a dimple, already suggesting you will be happy with what’s inside. Once you notice the smile in that arrow, you’ll never look at the Amazon logo the same way again.
The same goes for signage at high school athletic events requesting that spectators respect players, fans, coaches and officials. A recent survey of athletic administrators conducted by Safe Sport Zone, a developer of strategies to create safe player and spectator environments at high school athletics events, indicated that displaying fan code of conduct banners at games results in varying degrees of effectiveness.
Several factors can impact the way spectators see those messages. They might not notice them — in which case, you need to make signs, posters and banners more visible and hang them in obvious places. Conversely, people might be exposed to those messages on your campus too often, via unattractive signs that convey little urgency and nullify whatever action they encourage.
School administrators must do a better job of communicating their expectations to game spectators. This can be done through a universal spectator code of conduct banner for home and away fans displayed at the entrances to games. Standards of behavior should be well documented and enforced for anyone to attend a high school event.
Safety and behavior messages can be critical in a high-energy, competitive high school sports environment. Safe Sport Zone recently partnered with the Milwaukee-based educational consulting firm Crisis Prevention Institute, as well as the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association and the National Federation of State High School Associations, to develop attractive posters with short and catchy messages, such as “Expect Respect.” These kinds of messages can significantly alter the emotional climate on the field and in the gym.
Even posters with longer messages can lead to change for the better. Here is how the latest eye-catching red, white and blue poster from Safe Sport Zone reads:
Code of Conduct Rules
• Display good sportsmanship
• Notify school of illegal activity
• Follow all school rules
• In an emergency, listen to staff
• Harass anyone at any time
• Bring or carry any weapons
• Use alcohol/illegal substances
• Enter playing surface at any time
Fans not following the code of conduct rules will be removed.
These free posters deliver constant reminders that help maintain a safe environment. Similar posters have been tested in schools of different sizes, and once spectators began noticing the messages, the atmosphere in the stands became more positive.
As interscholastic athletic administrators, it’s easy to overlook your role as it relates to the rest of the building. But the effects of creating a positive school climate from within the athletic department can flow into classrooms, common spaces and other areas of the school.
Signage isn’t the only approach the athletic department can take to encourage positive behavior and foster a culture of respect. Here are four more ways to warm up the mood not only at afterschool sporting events but also throughout the school day:
1. Pay attention to your tone of voice. The louder people talk, the less they’re heard. Why? Because loudness suggests irrationality, anxiety or desperation. That’s why emergency medical technicians remain calm, even in the middle of life-or-death situations. When you speak rationally and in a consistent tone of voice, people will respond much more favorably.
2. A smile goes a long way. Saying “thank you” (and meaning it) goes even further. Don’t overlook the basic elements of human kindness. Such a simple form of conveying positivity encourages others to reciprocate. This approach works on the field (player to player, coach to player, official to coach), in the hallways (student to student, teacher to student, administrator to teacher) and in the stands (fan to fan, administrator to fan).
3. De-escalate conflict. When a tense situation arises — with a fan, a student or a colleague — avoid getting into a power struggle and provide options for the next step. For example, rather than ordering a first-time offending fan from the premises following a minor offense, suggest he or she refrain from that behavior in the future or leave now. De-escalation training is a skill that all game administrators should undergo.
4. Treat everyone with respect, dignity and kindness. It’s that simple. As the sign says, “Expect respect.”
Jay Hammes is a member of the National Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association’s national faculty. If you have questions for Jay, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.