Lessons in Sportsmanship
Yes, the replacement NFL referees have missed some calls, and according to some onlookers even cost the game for a team (i.e., Green Bay Packers). We scream at a bunch of people willing to step up to do something who do not have the skills to do the job—yet they’re trying. What are we teaching each other? Are we saying no one is allowed to try, no one is allowed to make mistakes, and if you’re not good enough, get off the field before you are berated and belittled.
On the same day as the Monday Night Football, what should we call it? Debacle? Or, as stated on NBC’s Today show this morning “CRISIS”, my youngest daughter’s sixth grade soccer team took the field for a game. The way the local school league and teams are set up, they are consistently at a disadvantage, and will play older, stronger, bigger, and better teams. The likelihood of winning a game is slim. They know this going into the game, yet they all show up to play. More than halfway through the season, the team has scored one goal, and has not won. Yet, they sprint out on to the field each time.
I’ve had displayed my own cynicism in the past and have made my own comments about how everyone today gets a ribbon, medal, trophy, and certificate for participating. Although I still believe some of this has watered down our children’s drive and motivation in some competitive situations later on in life, it has taught many people the importance of teamwork and sportsmanship. If there was ever a more deserving group of children for the pat on the back for trying, it is this team.
This sixth-grade team comes to practice every day looking to improve. They respect the referees; they respect the other team, and understand the integrity of the game. I asked my daughter how the game was after a 10-0 loss, and she said, “It was fun.” That’s also the same answer she gave me after her basketball team lost 74-4. How can you not smile after hearing a genuine answer like that and hope all of us can live our lives that way.
After work on Monday, I asked the same question and expected a similar answer. Instead I was given a description of events from her (and later confirmed with several others) that was disturbing. After being down 6-0 at halftime, the opposing coach mercifully pulled the top players. The game was a little more competitive, but a couple more goals were scored. The opposing players apparently began mocking the losing team, and were laughing out loud at the players. The opposing coach was on the sideline and said nothing. His first act of pulling the players was admirable, but this is when the real teaching of his team should have taken place. It didn’t.
Instead, as the opposing goalie began to dribble up the field, he was encouraged by his team to continue. He dribbled the length of the field and was able to take a shot. The coach’s reaction was a flippant comment made to his goalie along the lines of, “That’s enough, and we know what you can do.” The laughter continued.
Last year, as a soccer referee of a local YMCA eight-to-ten year old soccer league, I was getting fed up with some of the parents and youth sports coaches striving to win some championship that’s as important to them as the World Cup. It boiled over toward the end of the season when I handed (OK, tossed) a whistle to one of the screaming coach mid-way through a game who felt my refereeing wasn’t good enough. I told him to do it himself if he felt he could (he responded back and said he could). Yes, it was unsportsmanlike on my part, but a message was sent at that time to all of the parents, team, and coaches that screamed, “I’m just a volunteer trying my best, and I don’t deserve that kind of treatment.” I went back on the field after some prodding to a very cordial rest of the game.
I share this story because the sixth grade losing coach became tired of this too. She was worn-out with the antics and pulled her team off the field to avoid any further embarrassment—not the score, but the other team’s actions. Her kids were trying their best and don’t deserve that kind of treatment. According to observers, our coach screamed about unsportsmanlike-conduct from the team and that it was not necessary. The only misstep the coach took was when she made a comment out loud saying, “This sucks.” She instantly knew she made a mistake and apologized, including sending an incredibly written email sent to the parents explaining her motives, and saying sorry again for all of the events. The referee’s only comment through the entire ordeal was that she would be reported to the league for her language. The other opposing coach was not reprimanded and not even approached to calm down the situation. I realized that I started this article with don’t yell at the refs, but we are all part of this learning experience.
The kids obediently left the field and appreciated their own coach’s actions. Needless to say, emails and calls were exchanged with the athletic directors. It was clear that the opposing athletic director didn’t condone these acts, and assured everyone that swift and appropriate action would be taken. This wasn’t some blanketed apology that we hear in the news so often for a misguided Tweet, or random comment that was caught on tape. The genuine desire to make it right was felt by all involved and was appreciated.
The next day, the team had another game. They lost. In reality, they won as soon as they took the field. I want certificates of participation handed out for everyone! I want kids to play the game to try their best and learn about teamwork. I want the primary purpose of the game to be the teaching of sportsmanship—the teaching that comes from parents, coaches, and players alike. Stop screaming at the refs. Stop ridiculing the players. Stop the madness as coaches striving to win an eight inch plastic trophy that will sit in the schools display case gathering dust. Start having conversations about trying something new, trying your best, be willing to make mistakes, loving what you’re doing, teamwork, camaraderie, and any other individual and team goals you may want to instill.
I’ve failed to mention that this group of kids from the town next door will end up going to high school and playing on the same teams in just a couple of years. I can’t wait for that day of learning. When asked how the game was on Tuesday, my daughter responded with, “It was fun.” Gotta love her attitude.
Thomas B. Dowd III books The Transformation of a Doubting Thomas: Growing from a Cynic to a Professional in the Corporate World and From Fear to Success: A Practical Public-speaking Guide are available under “Products” on www.transformationtom.com. Book and eBook purchase options are also available on Amazon- Please click the links to be re-directed: Amazon.com