"Fake Sportsmanship?"

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The details are a little fuzzy at this point, but when I was in high school our softball team was bad. In the interest of full disclosure, you should know I pitched for the JV team for a couple of years (and I was REALLY bad), but this is about the varsity team. For ages and ages (like I said, my memory's foggy on the details, and this isn't the sort of thing one can Google), they were winless, until one day they finally won a game. It made news state-wide. Seriously. Even still, for all those losing years, there were still enough girls willing to play for the worst team, and take those losses week after week. There really is something to losing, repeated in a million platitudes (try "it builds character" and "what doesn't kill you makes you stronger" on for size). Recently, a story about Jericho Scott, a 9 year old with a 40 mph fastball caught Neal's eye — not only because this kid is clearly exemplary, but because the league administrators banned him from the mound for being too good and killing the competition. Is this "everyone gets a trophy" "all kids are special treasures" gone crazy, or an out-of-the-ordinary example where an unusual ruling was necessary to level the playing field? Is losing bad for kids? What about Scott?

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I coached 7th and 8th grade soccer for 8 years. I stopped coaching after an undefeated season and championship, because the parents still were not satisfied.
It seemed like the referees were trying to be the "great equalizers" on the field, and the parents were way to driven. The kids just wanted to have a good time. I would not allow parents at practices and that's when the kids had the best time.

I had other teams that we would beat 11-0 and other coaches and referees thinking it was unsportsmanlike for me to allow that to happen...after I had put my last string in to play. Allow that to happen? All I did was ask my players to give their best. To ask less of them would go against the whole point of organized sports.

People need to relax and enjoy the competition, but not at the expense of the enjoyment of the sport.

Sent by Paul Beavers | 3:25 PM | 9-1-2008

I'm wondering if anyone else was upset with McDonald's Olympics TV ad. It showed a team of small children winning a baseball championship, teasing their opponents, and showing off with their trophy. The the losing team gets Happy Meals and they then tease the winners. The ad highlighted poor sportsmanship -- and in my many years of youth sports, even among the most competitive teams (travel soccer, all-star baseball, high school championships, etc.) I have NEVER seen poor sportsmanship of that level. Children ARE there to have fun, and in general children who win are empathetic to those who lose. (The displays of poor sportsmanship are exceptions and are often indicative of other problems.)

Sent by Karen Kaler | 3:32 PM | 9-1-2008

My, now 30 & 34 yr old children, who are peaceful, sensitive, political and social justice advocates, were both soccer all-stars, in their community leagues, as kids. Their response to my, "It's how you play, not whether you win." "wisdom" was, "Yes, mom AND we play games that have winners and losers, so we play to win." Their parents & coaches were the MAJOR influences in how they felt about sportsmanship, cooperation, teamwork, accepting defeat, etc.

Sent by lorraine | 3:39 PM | 9-1-2008

My son and daughter have both played sports all through their youth. Both have been very lucky in having good coaches. Soccer has been the sport that they most enjoyed.

While playing in a Youth League in Fairbanks, Alaska, good sportsmanship, teamwork, and skills were the important points. Though score was recorded, it was not a big deal. I was often at games where the parents had to ask what the final score was at the end of the game because no one had been paying attention to points. Cheering and encouragement were, for the most part, what came from the spectators. There was often cheering for a good play REGARDLESS of who made the play, even a player on the opposing team. After all, a good play is a good play and deserves recognition.

In high school, both played soccer on the school's co-ed team. Both were outstanding players and were received MFP awards in their senior years. But the coach's emphasis was on sportsmanship and teamwork. The team often received the good sportsmanship award at tournaments. The goals were always the results of good teamwork. The coach has always emphasized the positive and never tolerated negativism for a moment. Almost all of the players voiced confusion when seeing and hearing other coaches and spectators who yelled at players about errors or put the players or the referee down. I heard them ask their own coach, "Why did that coach yell at that player? The player already feels bad about the play. Yelling isn't going to help."

From these experiences, both of them have continued to play soccer when they can. Both enjoy playing the game. Winning or losing have never been a big deal and do not result in a huge amount of emotional energy. They play hard and they play well, but, at the end of the game, they do not worry about the score.

Sent by Annette McDonald | 4:37 PM | 9-1-2008

I was an above-average baseball player when I was younger. I played with the 12-year-olds when I was 9 and began to play on a competitive travel team when I was 10. My parents never pushed me to play, it was always my own choice. Once I got started with the travel baseball team, my workout routine became more intense. When I was 13, my back went out on me during a game. That put me on the bench for the next year and eventually led me to quit altogether. I'm 19 now and I continue to have back problems. I can't help but think that playing as much as I did caused the problems. I overdid it at a young age and I'm still paying for it.

I don't blame my parents or coaches for this injury, I just think that I burned myself out at a young age.

The experience I had when I was playing competitive baseball is something I would not want to give up. But if your kid is living, breathing, and thinking about their respective sport 24/7, make sure that they aren't overdoing it. I really wish that I didn't.

Sent by Tucker | 9:46 PM | 9-1-2008

We send the wrong message to kids by televising the Little League World Series. There are stories each year of coaches lying about the kids' ages and putting so much pressure on them at such a young age.

It sends the wrong message to these kids that winning is the only way to get attention.

Sent by Karen Hamilton | 12:13 AM | 9-2-2008

The everyone gets a trophy mentality is not good for sports. There is less competitive drive in most kids today because of it. Though I disagree with one of the other comments, about winning 11-0. What does that accomplish? In soccer if you are up 3 or 4-0 and dominating a team, why not use it to learn game situations. Only scoring off a header only or making a certain number of passes before you can shoot gets your team practicing things in game situations against opponents rather than just in practice.

Sent by P Gormley | 1:51 PM | 9-3-2008

There is no reason that the concepts of recreation and competition have to be in conflict. Our youth soccer league does not keep standing or declare champions, and yes every kid gets a trophy, but we also keep score during the games and the games are quite spirited.

Generally, its the misplaced ambitions of adults that start the problems.

Sent by Sean Tipton | 1:53 PM | 9-3-2008

Press conferences! T-shirts! Lawyers! An appearance on The Today Show (and maybe Leno and Letterman)! Lots of excitement here, but certainly no perspective. My sympathies to Jericho for having to put up with adults behaving badly.

But to the question at hand. Clearly, based on his skill, Jericho is a bad fit for Liga Juvenil since it's a developmental league, while he sounds like a perfect fit for the more advanced Dom Aitro Pony League where more players are at his level. Odds are he will not improve as a player or have as much fun if he's mowing down batters in Liga Juvenil.

There's no doubt in my mind that the only reason he's in the developmental league is so that the coach can use him as a ringer. Witness the amount of time he's pitching - 13 innings in just four days. Jericho's parents, rather than hiring high-priced lawyers, should be more concerned about their son's arm getting blown out.

Sent by Ward Kanowsky | 3:02 PM | 9-3-2008

The Jerico case is not about kids winning or losing it about parents winning or losing through their kids! I do not believe that winning or losing makes kids feel good or bad until we teach them that! We have an opportunity to teach kids that success is what makes one feel good not winning. Unfortunately, we do not seize this opportunity! Instead culture and society dominates and teaches kids "win at all cost" or "winning is what will make you feel good". In Jerico's case kids should learn that when you lose you learn and you "can" get better when you play against better. We are creating a laser approach to the definition of success and winning and we are losing the display of a search light approach that the Central Washington girls' softball team players showed us.

"Everyone gets a trophy"....As far as this goes! Kids are living in a new society dominated by competition, from high stakes testing in education; to outsourcing and off-shoring! We must not mistake going crazy with what I like to call, "floating aimlessly". I can only hope that someday I will have the opportunity to publish a book that I am working on and bring a whole new light to a systemic problem.

Sent by Greg Baney | 3:19 PM | 9-3-2008

I have had the fortune, over the past 20 plus years, to coach teams that win regularly and coach teams that loose regardless. I regret that there are some parents and community members that spoil either experience with their personal agenda and philosophy about each game.

In simpliest terms, for any sport, they are games. Games that truely teach life lessons but still very much a game that has a place in the order of each athlete's life. As a coach and a parent I have strived to find balance for myself and my children in each activity we undertake. Sometimes we have been successful and sometimes we have not. The priority for me is striving for the balance. Jericho Scott has not been given the same consideration for balance with his baseball skill and being allowed to compete. Parents do not offer their child balance when their voice overshadows the child's participation on the field. I believe my role as a coach is to help each player find balance while supporting their development of their athletic talent.

When an athlete demonstrates they are more successful and advanced for their peers they should be offered opportunities that challenge their level of skill and passion for their sport. To me a coach, parent and the community should take action on behalf of an athlete at every opportunity that supports the athletes passion to succeed. One captures such moments when and if we are watching. Personal agendas, greed and selfish behavior tend to cloud our vision and judgement to the point we over compensate (everyone gets a trophy). I am all for competition and I applaud every team and athlete that has faced a loss, many or few. Because in every loss, from the players position, is the opportunity to improve and try again equaled to the choice to quit and move on to other endeavors you feel more passionate about.

Sent by Lowell Wightman | 7:49 PM | 9-3-2008

As the founder of the Connecticut Youth Sports Initiative, the Jerico Scott case is intriguing, to say the least. One argument that seems to be swirling around is that Jerico can't improve unless he competes against better competition. This view is a view no child ever expresses. It is an adult view of sports that kids are forced to swallow since adults have professionalized children's experiences in youth sports. Our youth sports culture is a reflection of the world ESPN would have us digest.
The reality is that Jerico Scott has not reached puberty, the only true indicator of athletic potential. Who knows if he will end up being a good baseball player? The youth sports culture we have created selects out late bloomers, mostly so adults can bask in winning programs at the youth level. This only serves the adults.
I feel strongly that competition is a critical component to development. The appropriate time for competition is around the time of puberty. Before that, the early bloomers are the only ones able to compete because the late bloomers have been cast aside or relegated to "house league" status. Then high school coaches overtly or subtly push specialization as the only way to get access to varsity high school slots. If you are a parent of a kid who loves sports, can't you feel the pressure building?
Our group has been calling for delays in the creation of elite travel teams and elite state championships until the reasonable age around 7th grade. We suspect that state governing bodies for youth sports that control state championships are reluctant since there is so much money in these state championships. There is also a limitless amount of elite team tournaments that make a great deal of money for the people who run them. It sounds like exploitation to our group.
Our major concern now is that high school sports, with regulations and perspectives placed upon them by state high school athletic associations will become a thing of the past, replaced by outside private, for-profit club teams, with no regulation or oversight. We are also concerned that local school boards will begin to consider significantly reducing or eliminating high school athletic budgets. Why should they fund competitive high school athletic programs when many of the top athletes in towns are being syphoned off by elite, private, money making groups. It's not a pretty view of our future.
Organizations like US Soccer have adopted policies that create elite club teams throughout the country. They have placed pressure on these club teams to limit participation to those elite players who are willing to forgo participation on their high school team. State high school athletic associations would do well to fight this insideous practice.

Sent by Rick Collins | 8:03 PM | 9-3-2008

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