How An Ancient Greek Promise Could Unite Coaches

Published February 21, 2019

In the wake of a public dialogue on abuse in sport, I was reminded of the Latin phrase “primum nil nocere” which means “first, to do no harm” or the principle of non-maleficence. The Hippocratic Oath, named after the father of medicine in Western culture, is an ancient tribute to the Greek Gods that requires a new physician to swear, before the healing gods, to uphold specific ethical standards. This ‘swearing in’ ritual is part of a larger expression of medical ethics in the Western world, many of which remain of paramount significance today. Other principles include respect for autonomy (patient has the right to refuse or choose treatment), beneficence (practitioner should act in the best interest of the patent), and justice (the distribution of, and access to, scarce health resources). These principles provide a common understanding around shared values that the medical profession promises to uphold. It is the central tenant that connects all physicians to their profession. There are several different interpretations to the modern-day expression of the Hippocratic Oath, but all promise to serve the profession of medicine in a way that upholds the highest moral principles.

How might the idea of a Coaches’ Hippocratic Oath help to generate a united effort to support a safe, healthy experience for all involved?

As a long-time community soccer coach and an Integral Master CoachTM, I reminded myself this past week that I too have taken a similar pledge in the form of committing to coach according to the True Sport Principles and to ensure I live up to the Code of Ethics as espoused by the International Coach Federation. The seven True Sport Principles flow from the four core values of fairness, excellence, inclusion and fun and are the outcome of a pan-Canadian conversation in 2001, and validated several times since then by the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport and the True Sport Foundation. These four values gave context to the True Sport Principles which are designed to meet Canadians’ expectations on the quality of the field of play experience. Since that time nearly 4300 members have signed onto to True Sport …. thousands of geographic communities, coaches, teams, athletes, parents and sport organizations agree that a principle-driven approach to values-based sport is the necessary path forward to combat unsafe and unethical practices. There are hundreds of examples on the www.truesport.ca website that speak to various forms of public promises including the oaths taken by officials, athletes and coaches during the Canada Games and the True Sport Champion Pledge that invites people to ‘live and act with courage, respect, teamwork, integrity and responsibility’.

The Coaching Association of Canada and the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport are leading the way on elevating the profession of coaching through the Responsible Coaching Movement. This initiative, along with many more, are helping to ensure that coaches meet required standards and that sport organizations have the necessary legal requirements and protocols to ensure an optimal field of play experience. Signed codes of conduct, mandatory training, the rule of two, references, and police record checks are examples of measures taken by sport organizations to ensure the people selected (paid and non-paid) to coach children have the necessary skills and mindset to do so. By providing all participants with the information they need to hold themselves and others accountable to a quality sport experience, we stand a greater chance of succeeding.

I am intrigued by the idea that we could activate this commitment more fully by inviting coaches to also make a public pledge as part of their certification. If it’s true that our words shape our worlds, there is something powerful about publicly expressing a shared commitment to a higher ideal. Imagine coaches across the country – from community to national level – pledging to serve the profession of coaching. Great coaches alone do not bear the sole responsibility for a positive sport experience. However, coaches are often instrumental in nurturing and shaping the quality of the sport experience. As such, a ceremonial induction to the profession of coaching may signal the importance of this work and the commitment required to fulfill our shared promise.

To contribute to the national conversation, here is the SLSG’s thoughts on a Coaches’ Hippocratic Oath that would serve as a reminder to all involved of the shared ethical standards to ensure a safe, welcoming and positive environment for participants. It is taking the concept of a Universal Code of Ethics and making it public through some form of ceremony and read out loud in front of athletes at the beginning of each season.

As a certified coach and member of the coaching profession:

  • I SOLEMNLY PLEDGE to ensure the emotional and physical safety of the athletes in my care;
  • I WILL RESPECT the autonomy and dignity of athletes;
  • I WILL NOT PERMIT considerations of age, disability, creed, ethnic origin, gender, gender identity or expression, nationality, citizenship, religion, race, sexual orientation, marital status, family status, genetic characteristics or disability to intervene between my responsibility and the athlete;
  • I WILL PRACTICE my profession with conscience and dignity and in accordance with good coaching practice;
  • I WILL FOSTER the noble and honourable traditions of the coaching profession;
  • I WILL GIVE to my teachers, colleagues, officials, spectators, parents and athletes respect and gratitude;
  • I WILL SHARE my coaching knowledge for the benefit of athletes and the advancement of the coaching profession;
  • I WILL ATTEND TO my own health, well-being, and abilities in order to provide coaching of the highest standard;
  • I WILL NOT USE my coaching knowledge to violate human rights and civil liberties, even under threat;
  • I MAKE THESE PROMISES solemnly, freely and upon my honour.

It somehow feels right to source the wisdom of the ancient Greeks as we look to hold ourselves and others more accountable to a safe experience for children, youth and all athletes. If the best form of flattery is to borrow concepts that have withstood the test of time, then honouring the timeless promise of ‘first, to do no harm’ feels like a good place to start.

You can connect with me at dbl@sportlaw.ca. I’d love to hear from you.

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