Character and Integrity Lacking in Coach’s Decision
I’m as disappointed as anyone with the latest high-profile example of an adult who fails to model and reinforce integrity and ethical behavior in youth sports. Adults should set an example for young athletes on how to compete respectfully, responsibly, and honorably.
Instead, we saw at the Little League Softball World Series, an example of the “whatever it takes to win” culture that does none of those things.
The coach of a team that was 3-0, and had outscored opponents 21-0, appeared, quite clearly, to have his team deliberately lose a game. The team’s 8-0 defeat created a three-way tie in pool play that eliminated from the tournament, the team he apparently viewed as his strongest potential opponent. The ousted team filed a protest that kept it in the tournament.
You can read the details on the game and the response by Little League International, here.
The coach made a decision that put winning ahead of integrity. It’s that simple. I don’t see how a reasonable person could see it any other way.
This Isn’t Anything New
Last February, I wrote a commentary titled Losing to Win Dishonors Youth Sports. It involved a girls high school basketball, district playoff consolation game in which both teams tried to lose. They did so because the losing team would avoid having to play in the same state playoff bracket as the defending national champion.
Here is some of what I wrote at the time.
Sadly, efforts to manipulate a team’s path through a tournament bracket happen a lot, especially in soccer and hockey. Coaches will determine that a loss or tie (draw) may result in a better opponent match-up. Coaches justify gaming the system by arguing that it’s simply a strategy that leads to the overall goal of winning the tournament. That finding the easiest path to win the tournament trumps any individual game. It’s an “ends justify the means” argument used by those who circumvent rules, laws, or regulations in order to gain an advantage.
The Way You Win Matters
Coaching brings with it, an enormous responsibility to model and reinforce character and integrity. Winning with integrity means competing fairly and responsibly, not through questionable means. Purposely losing a game, or forging a tie, in order to gain a favorable pairing or bracket position, distorts the meaning of competition. You risk losing the trust of those who play and watch a sport, if the competition no longer is viewed as authentic.
No doubt, the league will try to solve its problem by changing the rules. But, as I’ve suggested in We Need to Re-Define Winning, someone will find a way around almost any rule or regulation you come up with. People can’t be forced to act fairly and responsibly. They have to want to do it.
It is up to each of us to set the right example, and consider the lessons our kids are learning, through their team sports experience.
Let’s help young people develop the desire and the courage to be honorable and trustworthy on and off the field.
We can flip this negative Little League Softball “game-fixing controversy” into a positive by using it as a conversation starter for parents, youth coaches, and young athletes to discuss competing honorably and responsibly.
Photo Credit: Stuart Seeger via Flickr
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Chuck Wilson is an award-winning host, interviewer, and commentator. He was an original host on ESPN Radio and was with the network for close to 17-years. In 2007, Wilson was named one of the 100 Most Influential Sports Educators in America by the Institute for International Sport. He is the founder of Even Field.