Unwritten Rules in Sports

Every game needs rules, without them everyone would be playing a different game. You can’t pick up the ball with your hands in soccer (unless of course you are the goalie). That is a fundamental rule in soccer. If someone breaks it then they are no longer playing soccer the way it is meant to be played. If you hold a defensive lineman when he is trying to get passed you then you are breaking a rule of football. Once you do that you are also not playing the game how it is meant to be played.

France's famous handball against Ireland that allowed France to move on in the World Cup

France’s famous handball against Ireland that allowed France to move on in the World Cup

In every professional sport there are hundreds, if not thousands of rules. There are rules about what players can do, wear, make in salary, when they can be traded, etc. Even though there are rules for almost everything, modern athletes and coaches find themselves adopting unwritten rules.

I think the best example of this is when you are up in a game and you take out your best players. I know it is partly because you don’t want to risk them getting hurt, but let’s not forget that it is also partially because you don’t want to humiliate the other team. It makes the coaches and organization look bad when you run up the score against a team when you don’t need to. Because these things coaches in most major sports have decided to take their star players out and put the back-ups in for the last couple of minutes of gameplay. You are not forced to do this, and some coaches choose not to (but they are the worst), but it is an unwritten rule and most coaches have accepted it.

There are some unwritten rules that don’t really benefit one team or another. When a coach takes out his best players he is doing it to look good, rest his players, and ease up on the opposition. Therefore, he benefits all teams. In hockey, there are unwritten rules about fighting. The rules are really only for self-preservation of each fighter, not necessarily for the whole team. If two players in hockey are fighting you never attack the double-team, head-hunt, or go on after the opposing player has had enough. When squaring up both players either leave the helmets on or take them off. All of these are unwritten rules and they in place to make sure each player has a fighting chance.

Steph Curry guarding Chris Paul

Steph Curry guarding Chris Paul

In basketball the taller players will usually guard the taller players, the fast players will guard the fast players, and the strong players will guard the strong players. I know that it doesn’t always end up that way, but usually you will see Tim Duncan guard Chris Bosh and Steph Curry guard Chris Paul. There is no rule saying that the forwards have to stick to the forwards, but that’s how it ends up happening. Mostly it happens because if Chris Bosh were to guard Steph Curry you would have a terrible match-up at both ends of the basketball court. Some might argue that it is more of a strategic play as opposed to an unwritten rule, but I would say it is both. You don’t want terrible match-ups, so you have similar players guard similar players. Sometimes, you will see a player guard someone who is far too big and he will get outplayed and humiliated. Coaches don’t want their players to be humiliated so they make sure they give them good match-ups. The coaches have an unwritten rule to make sure their players don’t get humiliated by guarding someone bigger, faster, or stronger. Sometimes it may happen, but coaches should put their best guy on the other teams best guy. 7217660

The unwritten rules shape the games we play. For the better of the game and sport coaches, players, and administrations have decided upon these rules and agreed upon these “rules”. They keep the games fair by eliminating some of the upper hands one team might have over another. They keep the games respectable by making sure coaches don’t run up the score. Lastly, they can keep the games safer by regulating how players can fight in hockey. These unwritten rules make our games better, not worse, and I would not be surprised to see several of them make their way into the actual rule



  1. caitstew12 · November 11, 2014

    You included so many examples of unwritten rules in this which I loved. It made me think of my high school soccer team. When I was in middle school I remember my coach telling me that you never, under any circumstance, ‘mercy’ the other team because its bad form. My team was generally terrible so it was never really a concern that we’d mercy anyone. One game, we were actually up 6 points (you need 7 to mercy) and our entire team was ecstatic because usually we were on the other end of the score but we still honored the unwritten rule and didn’t run up our season’s points. This blog post would have been raised to another level if you had connected it to something we are explicitly discussing in class in greater detail. I saw the connection but you never actually stated it.


  2. dinaakhmetshina · November 11, 2014

    I thought that your examples were very interesting and used effectively to corroborate your understanding of this concept. However, I noticed from the example for running up scores, you blurred logistical rules with ethics in sports. I think that the two exist in separate categories and for two different reasons. Logistical rules as to how the rules should be played are rules created to ensure a leveled, fair playing field and to protect the players. These rules have consequences or penalties when broken. Ethical rules, like not running up the total score, are not punishable and are often unspoken or unwritten rules. They exist to protect the honor of the players or teams and encourage respect. I also agree with the previous comment. I understood what concept you were referring to, but you never explicitly stated how this connected to what we’ve discussed in class or learned in a reading. That makes your post seem untargeted and vague.


  3. maxmcquaid · December 8, 2014

    I agree that there are a lot of unwritten rules that players and coaches follow for the betterment of and to respect the game. Like how coaches are not expected to play their best players at the end of the game when they have a large lead. However, I think your basketball example is purely strategy. I don’t think that a coach matches up players so that their player won’t get embarrassed. He does it so that his team has a better chance of winning. Sometimes a coach will create a different matchup like put a bigger player on a smaller player if he thinks his team will benefit from it. Like if he wanted to put LeBron James on Steph Curry so that Curry will have a harder time getting his shots off.


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