Coaches, Teachers & Administrators!

Why Have a Code?

Webster’s Dictionary defines “code” as “any system of principles or rules.” Codes are important in our lives. They surround us in written and unwritten forms. The written ones are such things as the laws by which we live, the religious creeds or affirmations that we make, the oaths and mottoes we take as part of social, service, and scouting organizations as well as the “mission statements” that are a part of corporate America. There are many other unwritten but clearly understood codes at home, at work, and on the street.

ABW’s Code for Living is intended to be a unifying set of principles around which people of all ages and sports interests can join together. It is not intended to replace either the written or unwritten codes of one’s religion, family, or work, but to provide unity, focus, support and direction to those who care about sports leadership and our country.

The Code for Living is important for the individual because:

  1. It provides a clear standard for each person. It reminds us that we have responsibilities to our teammates, our society, and ourselves. The Code provides foundational principles upon which each of us can build and develop our lives.
  2. It allows us to set our own goals within it. That is, while it provides a clear framework, we have the freedom to focus on different elements within it according to our age, gifts, and desire. Therefore, how we choose to live it out will be a challenge that will require constant reflection, with new goals set for ourselves as each year passes.

The Code is important for the team because:

  1. It provides a common set of values on which the team can build. Teams are made up of individuals, and yet a team only emerges when the individuals come together in support of common goals. The Code provides one of the foundations upon which a true team can be built.
  2. It recognizes that we have a collective responsibility for one another and for our communities. We need each other and can only be successful with each other. In other words, no one person can make a team or a community.
  3. It represents a commitment to the team. Each person knows what he or she can expect from the other. That knowledge builds confidence and promotes team spirit.

The Code is important to society because:

  1. It acknowledges the responsibility we all have as members of society and represents a commitment to the betterment of our communities and world.
  2. It makes it clear what our values are and encourages others to follow. We are at a time when it is important for people who share common values to stand together, and by doing so to provide an example for others to follow and join.

Introducing ABW - Some Suggested Steps and Ideas

The Simplest and Easiest Thing Do

For those interested in introducing a sportsmanship program into their team, school, club or league, the simplest method we suggest is as follows:

  • Adopt the Code and present it at the beginning of the season.
  • Award an ABW medal at the end of the season to the athlete who best exemplifies the Code.  If you allow the players to vote for the recipient (and tell them that at the beginning of the season) it will increase their awareness of the Code. 

More Ideas and Greater Detail:

A Coach, Team, School, or League Adopts the Code for Living

When the Code is adopted, an additional optional step is to personalize it by the coach, school, or league.  For example, some coaches may want to add an additional statement of their own principles or team rules, and some athletic or league directors may want to add their own goals and philosophies of sport.  While most places and programs do not do this, it does preserve the idea of a common Code that is held everywhere and allows local leadership to personalize it in a way that is important to them. 

Leadership Promotes Awareness of the Code and ABW

ABW provides color posters at no cost, which can be posted in locker rooms, gyms, or at playing fields with bulletin boards.  Most high school athletes sign "penal codes," that is, codes that articulate the penalties that will be assessed for bad behavior.  These codes are usually signed for the protection of the institution and then put in filing cabinets.  By contrast, the Code for Living is intended to be a positive, living document, that is, one that is a part of the ongoing experience of the athlete, so visible reminders are important.  Having the Code posted in several visible places helps accomplish this.

Coaches can refer to the Code when talking with their players.  For example, if a player works hard on skill development after practice, the coach may not just praise the player but refer to "developing your skills to the best of your ability."  If a player clearly sacrifices for the good of the team, the coach will refer to "team goals above personal goals," in praising the player.  The website homepage has the “Tip of the Day” which provides for a one-minute lesson on how the Code connects to the news of the day.

To be a partner/member is to commit to the Code for Living, and membership is free.  Members receive wallet cards with the ABW logo, slogan, contact information, and a space for their name on one side, and the Code on the other side.  Members receive the newsletter and can make copies of articles of particular interest.  The main purposes of the newsletter are to be a constant reminder of ABW principles, and to encourage and reinforce participants.   Several statewide organizations have reproduced ABW newsletter articles for their own newsletters.

Leadership Reinforces the Tenets of the Code

All coaches and teachers seek to communicate the values in the Code in ways in which they are comfortable and encompass a number of teaching approaches.  ABW has developed two curriculums to serve as resources and aids for those interested, and to reinforce the coaches' own teaching.  They can be used as a source for coaching points, or as a complete curriculum in a classroom or camp setting.  On the website there are other resources available, such as the “Tip of the Week,” and back newsletter articles, to use in teaching the Code.

Leadership Reinforces the Program - Recognition and Service

Recognition and service are both important.  Each has the additional benefit of helping in other aspects of character development such as team building, self-esteem, and civic responsibility.
A Recognition Program

ABW encourages a “The Spirit of ABW” award to be given out to the athlete who best exemplifies the Code, either on the team or in the league, as decided by the leadership.  These can be voted on by the athletes themselves, which will help build their awareness of the Code as the season progresses. 

Team Service Projects

Coaches may want to discuss with the team what they would like to do to give back to their community.  Some teams have done this during the season, others at the end of the season.  Some teams have adopted their own service projects, such as painting ball field bleachers.

ABW encourages teams to participate in local service opportunities such as Habitat houses, walks for cancer, hunger programs, etc.

Become an ABW School

An ABW School is one whose Athletic Director commits to making character development of the athletes a priority and joins with other schools in making ABW an official part of the sports program.

Why become an ABW School?

Everyone is concerned about the many negative emphases and directions that are a part of sports today. By becoming an ABW school, an Athletic Director and the school’s coaches become part of a concrete program and movement to stand for the highest values in character, sportsmanship and citizenship.

Would the school have to drop or change any of the things it is already doing?

No. The ABW School program can stand alone or work in a complementary way with any positive program.

What do we have to do as an ABW school?

  1. Communicate the ABW Code for Living as a part of the philosophy of the athletic program.
  2. Display posters of the Code in appropriate places.
  3. At the end of every season, recognize one player on each team as the recipient of the “Spirit of ABW” award.
  4. Set a goal to have every coach go through the Coach’s online Training Program, either alone, or better, with a group of coaches.
  5. Set a goal that every athlete will perform at least two hours of community service every season.
  6. Determine the organizational person or persons who will be responsible for coordinating the outreach efforts of the athletes. This could include an “ABW Club” for all athletes.

What are the benefits to the school?

  1. It demonstrates a visible commitment by the school to a concrete program of character development.
  2. It creates a sense of unity across all teams, all coaches, and all sports.
  3. It provides a framework for coaches to build on.
  4. It identifies, communicates, and reinforces the values of the school to parents, coaches, athletes, and other schools.
  5. All coaches have unlimited access to the training at any time.
  6. Athletes and coaches will benefit from having a consistent message and framework provided to them by the Code for Living, the Tip of the Week, and the many online resources.
  7. The quality of the coaches’ and athletes’ behaviors will improve as the values taught become integrated and reinforced in the ongoing life of the athletic program. This has been statistically demonstrated for both the coaches’ behaviors as well as the athletes.

Exploring, Learning and Getting Into the Code

Exercises to make the Code come alive!

Coaches Training Program

How to become an effective coach!

Positive Charting

An excellent idea for coaches to begin using is that of Positive Charting.  Each game, carry a clipboard or notebook with a listing of each player’s name followed by a blank space for notations.  Whenever you notice a player doing something you want to reinforce, note it.  At the beginning of the next practice, take about ten minutes to share with your team the good things you noted.  This activity usually sets a positive tone for the practice and helps motivate each player to continue trying to improve since they know any improvement will be noted called to the attention of the entire group.

Some guidelines:

  • Each player should have about the same number of things noted and shared for each game.
  • Recognize players for great things they have done on their own, as well as what you are teaching.
  •  Include “character” items when appropriate.  For example, a player may have trouble controlling her temper when an opposing basketball player elbows her.  If so, make that one of the things she is working on and note it and share it with the group when she makes progress.
  • Give recognition for effort, not just results.
  • Ask the players to help you observe good things that their teammates are doing.  This involves them in the game and reinforces the areas that you want all your players to concentrate on.

As kids are forming their self-images, they need help in identifying their own strengths. So, whenever a player shows perseverance, motivation, discipline, or another behavior that will help him or her succeed, comment on it.  As you identify a label, a child’s strength, you’re giving the child a good basis for developing these skills.  And when you suggest that these positive behaviors are part of a child’s personality, the behaviors increase in frequency.

Form an ABW Club

It's great because it includes all sports, boys and girls!

Sportsmanship from A - Z

Written by the Michigan High School Association

Accept and Abide by the decisions of the contest officials. 

Be a good host to opponents and treat them as guests.

Cooperate with the coach, players and cheerleaders in trying to promote good sportsmanship.

Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you.

Encourage your players to play hard and fair.

Follow the rules of the contest at all times.

Good sportsmanship is the "golden rule" in action.

Hold assemblies before a contest to encourage students to display proper conduct.

Intervene to let others know that inappropriate jokes, racial or religious slurs, taunting, trash talk and intimidating behavior will not be tolerated at events sponsored at your school.

Judgment calls on the part of the officials are not subject to question or discussion.

Know, understand and appreciate the rules of the contest.

Lose without excuses; win without boasting.

Model language and behavior that is non-biased and is inclusive of individuals regardless of ethnicity, religion, gender or disability.

Never criticize players or coaches for the loss of a game.

Opposing coaches, participants, cheerleaders and fans must be respected at all times.

Provide opportunities for informing students and adult spectators of their responsibility to uphold the standards of sportsmanship.

Questioning an official’s call or making negative comments about an official is unacceptable behavior.

Recognize and show appreciation for an outstanding play.

Shake hands with opponents prior to the contest and wish them good luck.

Teach sportsmanship and demand that your players be good sports.

Use cheerleaders, pep groups and other student leaders to help develop a sportsmanship program.

Victory celebrations and unscheduled game rallies should not be permitted at events sponsored at your school.

Work cooperatively with officials and other contest personnel for an efficient contest.

eXercise self-control and be a good example for players and spectators.

Yelling, booing or heckling an official's decision is unacceptable behavior.

Zero in on sportsmanship - it's priority number 1!

Developmental Assets

The Code for Living is important because it supports 30 of the 40 internal and external assets needed to promote healthy, positive lifestyles in youth, as determined by the Search Institute.  In 1996, extensive research led the Search Institute to identify 40 essential building blocks of youth development. These blocks, also called Developmental Assets, are essential for children to develop into competent, healthy, and caring adults. The more assets young people possess, the less likely they are to engage in risky behaviors. Youth with more assets are more likely to do positive things that society values. 

Athletes for a Better World promotes the following developmental assets:

Internal Assets: involve the internal strengths, commitments and values young people need to guide their choices, priorities, and decisions.

  • Achievement Motivation
  • Caring
  • Integrity
  • Honesty
  • Responsibility
  • Restraint
  • Planning and Decision-Making
  • Interpersonal Competence
  • Resistance Skills
  • Peaceful Conflict Resolution  
  • Personal Power
  • Self-Esteem  
  • Sense of Purpose
  • Positive View of Personal Future 

External Assets: are positive developmental experiences that surround youth with support, empowerment, boundaries, expectations, and constructive use of time. 

  • Family Support
  • Positive Family Communication
  • Other Adult Relationships
  • Caring Neighborhood
  • Caring School Climate
  • Community Values Youth
  • Youth as Resources
  • Service to Others
  • Family Boundaries
  • School Boundaries
  • Neighborhood Boundaries
  • Adult Role Models
  • Positive Peer Influence
  • High Expectations
  • Creative Activities
  • Youth Programs

Putting assets into action thru sports:


  • Model positive, responsible behavior.
  • Organize a community service project for your team.
  • Help a younger team in your community.
  • Follow the rules of your team and sport.
  • Help and support your teammates.
  • Thank people when they do something nice for you.


  • Create a positive, safe environment.
  • Help your team set personal goals.  Expect your athletes to do well.
  • Provide many opportunities for youth to be leaders in and contributors to the team.  Allow team members to have a voice in decisions that affect the group.
  • Talk with parents about their children. Point out their strengths.
  • Find out the birthdays of all your team members. Send them a birthday card.
  • Call parents to praise their children when they do "good things" and let them know when you observe bad behavior.
  • Organize a community service project for your team - Let your athletes be a part of the decision-making process when selecting a volunteer project.
  • Invite parents to participate in their child's experience with your team.
  • Take your athletes’ questions seriously.
  • Make sure your athletes know why there are rules.
  • Turn your athletes’ mistakes into learning opportunities.
  • Model positive, responsible behavior.


  • Participate in your child’s athletic program-attend as many games as possible, cheer positively for all competitors, get to know your child’s teammates and families so that you can call them by name and chat with them.
  • Teach your children that there is more to the game than winning.
  • Spend time with children helping them map out their goals. Teach them to plan ahead.  Expect your children to do well.
  • Volunteer with your child's team: organize a service project, help with carpool, provide snacks.  Rediscover your role in helping and teaching young people besides your own children.
  • Volunteer as a family. Let your children be a part of the decision-making process when selecting a volunteer project.
  • Take your child’s questions seriously.
  • Make sure your child knows why there are rules.
  • Turn your child’s mistakes into learning opportunities.
  • Model positive, responsible behavior.

Get The Book

Buy ABW’s complete book on developing character through sports Winning More Than The Game

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