Thursday, May 25, 2006

It Might Hurt Their Self-Esteem

I've coached Little League baseball and, for the last two years, have assisted the girl's basketball program where I teach. Nothing in youth sports bothers me more than teams that run-up the score.
There was one game as a Little League coach that my team lost 24-3. Yes, we were that bad and they were that good. But I didn't feel that they were running up the score. They didn't steal bases; they didn't hit and run; they didn't go out of their way to force in those 24 runs. It just happened.
But there was one game as a Little League coach that my team lost 22-5. I felt that this team ran up the score. They were stealing bases, dancing around as they took their leads; they were employing the hit and run; the did go out of their way to force in those 22 runs. It shoudn't have happened.
In youth atheletics, it is important to stress sportsmanship while understanding that some teams are just that much better. In Connecticut, the high school athletic association has adopted a sportsmanship policy for football games that suspends coaches from running up the score. The policy "will suspend coaches whose teams win by more than 50 points."
Here's the question. If a team is winning a game by 48 points and they recover a fumbled ball two yards away from scoring another touchdown, do we really expect that player, a competitive teenager, to fall on it without trying to score? And if he does just fall on it, do we really want our athletes to then not try and score again? Think about. Number 25 for the recovering team is a senior who doesn't play much more than two or three plays a game. He has the opportunity to score the only touchdown of his high school career. But in the interest of the other team's self-esteem, the coach cannot allow that kid to score the touchdown?
Again, I am all for sportsmanship. But we should not be teaching our athletes to not play the way they should, under any other circumstance, play their respective sport.


At 2:48 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I also spent a lot of years coaching little league baseball, and I just retired my hockey coaching position after 32 years. I have had teams on both ends of this. In 1980 I had a team that didn't win a game, and in 2005 I had a team that went undefeated and won a state championship. Having a rule against running up the score is one of the worst ideas I've ever heard of, and you do a good job making that case.

Even if we have a superior team, we should never tell our kids not to try their hardest. Doing that often backfires, and it becomes even more humiliating for the losing team. When I was in high school we were beating another hockey team by a lopsided score, so our coach told our players that they would have to make at least four passes before they could shoot. Somehow the crowd figured that out, so they began chanting with the passes: One---two---three----four. Trying hard, however, doesn't mean that you have to continue to steal bases in a baseball game or to run your top power play in a hockey game.

Rather than making a rule, I think we have to depend on coaches having enough integrity and common sense to demand that their teams treat the other teams with respect when the games get out of hand. Coaches who lack these qualities often pay a price. I've found that in high school and in youth sports, justice often prevails--what goes around, comes around.


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