For as long as sports have been around, teams have had many ways of bonding, improving team morale and increasing team cohesion.

For as long as sports have been around, teams have had many ways of bonding, improving team morale and increasing team cohesion.

Team dinners, movie nights and playing video games work well to bring kids together to share a laugh and learn more about each other. Sadly, when teams resort to dangerous activities that athletes must do in order to be a part of the team, then it's likely that hazing has begun.

Hazing is defined as a ritualistic test that a person must "pass"to join a club, group, or team. It often involves physical pain, abuse, and personal humiliation. Many hazing rituals involve degrading practices that may include nudity or sexually-oriented activities (such as forcing a person to run across campus naked), as well as physically painful acts (such as being whipped or paddled by current members of the team). In some rare instances, people have been seriously hurt or have died while undergoing hazing rituals.

Obviously, these hazing examples are quite harsh, but what about other "traditions" many teams consider rites of passage that do not include public humiliation or physical pain?

There seems to be a gray area between what is okay (and even encouraged), and what is forbidden (or possibly even illegal), leaving many people to wonder what they can and can't do to further develop team cohesion and camaraderie.

Even when kids are actively participating in something that is clearly against their better judgment (like allowing themselves to be whipped), it is important for parents to understand the subtle variables that cause your child to follow through with a hazing ritual.

For example, a child may only appear to agree to go through a hazing ritual that involves pain and humiliation. In reality, the child is in an incredibly difficult position that involves peer pressure, group dynamics and obedience to authority figures.

Practices that are forceful, involve emotional and/or physical trauma and are against the will of an individual are always inappropriate and should never take place in youth sports.

It is important to understand hazing, because many sports teams still encourage or allow "traditional" practices to occur, even though some of these "traditions" can result in illegal behaviors, injuries, psychological damage or death. Many sports environments ignore the dangers of hazing by minimizing them and focusing instead on the rites of passage athletes must undergo in order to truly bond with the team.

For these reasons, it is vitally important to watch for signs of hazing and take action to prevent it.
Pay attention to the rituals in which your child is asked to take part and be sure they're not harmful. Remember, psychological danger is often more difficult to detect than physical danger. Be sure to examine even the safest of traditions. If you feel something is going on with the team that appears to be dangerous, immediately contact the coach and express your concerns - you can never be too safe when it comes to hazing.

D r. Chris Stankovich is an expert in sport and perfor-mance psychology. He offers a wide variety of educational training seminars for student-athletes, coaches, parents and league officials. Visit www.drstankovich.com, or call (614) 561-4482 for more details.