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Do No Harm: A Leadership Philosophy or Forgotten Principle?

It is a simple philosophy.

It applies to any coaching and teaching situation.

It applies to business as it does to sports.

It applies to elite athletes as it does to recreational athletes.

It applies to team sports as well as individual.

It applies to the weight room, the practice field, the field of play, the boardroom and the classroom.

Photo by Trym Nilsen on Unsplash


Why is that so hard to follow as a guiding principle?

There is a disturbing trend* that has brought to light some practices that are tolerated under the watch of people in trusted leadership positions.

Here is one excerpt from a report in the hockey news (listed below) in a newly filed lawsuit:

“These are systemic issues that have been in place for quite a while. There has been a good deal of knowledge in the hockey world that abuses are taking place. And to this day, we have the leagues being very slow to respond to these types of abuse,” says the lawyer representing the plaintiffs”

More explosive and shocking allegations against junior hockey in newly filed lawsuit – TheHockeyNews

See list of a sample of documented issues under the supervision of a coach. They run a wide range of issues, from negligence, to ignorance, to racism to physical and verbal abuse.

The focus in youth sports needs to be development of the person.

The focus of elite sports needs to be development.

The focus in the boardroom is development.

The focus in the gym is development for the playing field.

Let’s make it simple.


As my partner points out: there is a difference between getting a desired behavior and developing character and potential. It really comes down to personal power and how, as leaders, we put ourselves out there.

Is it about exerting control? If that is the case, does it come down to our own insecurities to feel that we must dominate and/or coach the winning team? Or is leadership about guiding the process of development?

While the below articles and documented transgressions may seem like extreme at first glance and easy to dismiss as isolated incidences, they represent a failure from the leadership at many levels. One of those levels is to follow a simple guiding principle.


Notice I did not say it was an easy principle.

I said simple.

Simple in the sense that it should govern decisions and planning. It needs to be the foundation around philosophy and culture within the sport, team, business and/or training environment

Not easy in the sense that it does require planning. Physical conditioning practices that are not planned in accordance with safe progression are not a test of grit or endurance. They are maxing out the physiological limitations of the individual. At times going over the line of what the body can endure based on some of these incidents.

Returning from injury to soon is not a test of commitment or toughness, it is a test to the mental and physiological limits of the body.

The strength and conditioning coaches where my son trains ( ) follows a simple rule : DO NO HARM.

That does not mean they go easy on the athletes (of all ages) they lead. But it does mean that they consider training time within their 4 walls as “time under their care”.

DO NO HARM requires thought.

It requires skill to find the right words in a difficult situation. It requires consideration of the person. It requires a knowledge base and experience level that allows for leaders to be able to deal with unexpected situations. It requires humility and security in oneself as the leader.

So where does applying DO NO HARM start?

It starts with setting boundaries and expectations. Athletes, students, employees and parents need to know what the organizational (team or business) and coaches (or manager) philosophy is around leadership. That includes what is acceptable and not.

Underage drinking? Not.

Hazing ? Not.

Verbal abuse and profanity? Not. That seems to be one area where the standard slips. Yes? .

The great Coach John Wooden had 3 rules. Don’t be late. Don’t criticize a teammate. And no profanity. To many that may seem like a small thing. But it sets a slippery slope of a standard. Once you acknowledge that profanity is acceptable within the culture, then what? Especially around young people.

This article is courtesy of:

The Physical Movement: Play. Lead. Be Strong.

Other examples?

· Bus rides with 13–15 year old young athletes should not have coaches drinking alcohol on them. This should apply to any team event, period. But for sure for any event with underage students or athletes. Alcohol clouds the judgement. Leaders need clear thinking when others are under their care. Coaches should not be around alcohol at any team function or overnight trip. That needs to be a standard, a policy. Again, a slippery slope if it is tolerated. Simple to enforce if the organization hiring the coach has a clear policy of where the standard lies at the beginning of the position.

· Berating or criticizing a young athlete in front of his/her peers is not the standard of care that should be tolerated. This is especially hard for young athletes playing with a parent as coach. Extremely hard on the young person, and the parent coach. There must be a standard there. Sometimes parents are the only ones who will volunteer. How do you set the standard? Education. See below.

· This means that not letting a young athlete know why they are sitting or getting playing time is not the standard of care. Promoting a culture of speaking up to coaches when they have concerns or questions (without risk of ridicule!). This is critical beyond a certain age, yes? The level of parental involvement with young athletes today, even at the elite level is appalling. Communication protocol needs to be set. Rules on how and when non coaching parents can be involved needs to clear.

These are just a few examples of what is both well documented and personally, I have witnessed in my time as a coach, teacher and parent.

Coaches don’t take an oath like doctors do, but they should.

The summary of the Hippocratic Oath is to set a standard for the doctor in terms of having a guiding principle of care. It can be summarized as treating the ill to the best of one’s ability, to preserve a patient’s privacy, to teach the secrets of medicine to the next generation, and so on.

Organizations have the responsibility to set and enforce standards of care for all concerned. Certifications need to evolve from just skill and strategy development to leadership training that covers the guiding principle of DO NO HARM.

A great example is the injuries that occur during practice or gym time, when training for competition. We are not talking about turning an ankle, but rather prescribing workloads that the body/athlete are not ready for, perhaps in conditions or a climate that is not conducive to progress.


A guiding principle of leadership for any position at any level.

The stakes are too high to not acknowledge and enforce this principle.

*some of the documentation around a disturbing trend is below:

Originally published at

Do No Harm: A Leadership Philosophy or Forgotten Principle? was originally published in ILLUMINATION on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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A poem

Photo by Kristijan Arsov on Unsplash

There I see my lovely tree
Swaying in the breeze, merry and glee!
Flowers adorn, white and yellow
Appeasing every passing fellow!
And then a cruel hand darts out
Plucking a flower in an ugly bout!
The tree struggles to protect and fight
Not giving up and holding it tight!
Fate doesn’t favour the tree
And the full branch breaks free!
The dark hand doesn’t care
It pulls and strips the flower bare,
Only to return once again
To put the next branch under strain!

Sometimes I worry and ponder
If I am the cruel monster,
Plucking away all your love and affection
Only to leave you broken and barren!

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The cruel hand was originally published in ILLUMINATION on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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