A Missed Opportunity

The Way You Win Matters

It was a boys high school basketball game and I was sitting next to a father, whose son was playing for one of the teams. The father, who I’ll call “Jim”, was a former basketball coach at the high school and college levels.

During the first half, a player on his son’s team made a “3”. As the player made his way back on defense, he stared down fans of the opposing team. I remember thinking at the time, “Well, perhaps those fans said something to him”. I hoped it was just a momentary lapse. Later in the game, the same player made another “3” and this time was more demonstrative, gesturing to opposing fans.

Jim expressed his disgust.

“If that was my player, he would be sitting on the bench right now. There is no place for that in high school sports.” I mentioned the earlier behavior from the same player. Jim said he had noticed it, as well. I asked him if he thought the team’s coach had seen it.

His response was, ‘Oh, yeah’.

During breaks in the action, Jim and I talked about the coach’s role in setting the tone for how a team should compete.

“It’s about respect and playing the sport the right way”, he said.

A Lost Opportunity

Coaches at all youth levels are teachers and role models. Players hear what coaches say, but studies show that young people are influenced more by the actions of coaches, teachers, and parents, than by their words. We can talk with young people about sportsmanship, and the importance of respect, responsibility, honor, and integrity, but unless we continually demonstrate through our actions that we value these qualities, the concepts become just words, without meaning or context.

While his team did win the game, the coach lost an opportunity to teach a lesson about winning with integrity. And, it wasn’t just one player who missed out on a life lesson.

Another Chance Missed

Recently, a basketball referee told me about a high school game he officiated last year. As the opposing team was being introduced, students supporting the home team turned their backs. It was the kind of thing kids do for laughs. But, while the students no doubt believed their actions to be harmless fun, their behavior was viewed by others as disrespectful. But, no one told them that. According to the game official, the player introductions continued and no adult at the game spoke with the students about their actions. Not the home team coach, or the school’s athletic director, who witnessed the behavior. Perhaps someone spoke with the students later, but they didn’t at the time.

The referee said he thinks back to that moment and regrets that he didn’t leave the court himself to talk with the students. As he put it ‘Those kids needed to see a different perspective. I shouldn’t have waited for someone else to do it.’

The official pointed out that stopping the introductions to focus attention on the students’ behavior, would have had an impact on everyone in attendance that night.

Had the coach we spoke of earlier pulled his player from the game after the unsportsmanlike conduct, think about the lasting effect it might have had on all the players and fans at that game.

What You Focus on Expands

We don’t have to wait for significant situations to arise to talk with young people about character and integrity. Character isn’t about just the big things. It’s about the little things that can open the door to a conversation.

Gestures to opposing fans and turning around during player introductions may not seem all that important. In and of themselves, the behaviors aren’t all that egregious. But, left unchecked, similar behaviors may be repeated, and over time, become habits. They may erode a concept such as respect for others. That is why it makes sense to engage young people on such behaviors, and encourage them to consider the consequences of their actions on others.

We should make use of every opportunity to teach, and reinforce character and core values. Sport provides a wonderful training ground to do that. We just have to utilize it.

Let’s focus on team values, not just team wins.

Photo Credit: Rob Buenaventura via Flickr

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