Thursday, January 29, 2009

Lessons of competition and compassion

There's been so much written about the 100-0 high school girls game in Texas that I wasn't planning on posting about it.

But as the father of two young kids, and as a coach, it's hard to let it go.

To put it plainly, it's disgraceful. Even at the professional level, as a courtesy, coaches typically "take their foot off the accelerator" when they have a big lead late in the game.

In this case, at halftime, when the score was 59-0, couldn't the coach with the lead have gone over to the opposing coach and had a private conversation about how he'd like to proceed? After all, these are high school kids in a private school game.

At the least, why not switch off the scoreboard? Did he really think his team might blow a 59-point lead? Could he not see that his opponent was completely overmatched? Was his team actually getting better by playing a team so much weaker than his? Wouldn't a crisp 90-minute practice have served his team better?

From what I've read, the winning team's players and an assistant coach were cheering increasingly louder as the score approached the magical "100."

Really? Why? Was this a big victory? Had they really been challenged in the game?

That kind of behavior in a 100-0 win reminds me of something Ben Franklin said once:

“You must not, when you have gained a victory, use any triumphing or insulting expression, nor show too much pleasure, but endeavor to console your adversary, and make him less dissatisfied with himself by every kind and civil expression, that may be.”

I've seen youth league coaches with 25-point leads call a timeout with a minute left in the game. It's silly and, if done unintentionally, it's thoughtless.

Recently, I watched a youth league coach lead his team in prayer before a game, then proceed to leave on his full-court press until the final buzzer even though his team was up by 25 points. It's not only hypocritical, it's completely unnecessary.

In this article, Michael Josephson, founder of the Josephson Institute for Youth Ethics, asks, "What is the ultimate goal of coaching [kids]? It should be teaching good life skills. When Wilt Chamberlain scored 100, he did it against a professional team. It's a huge difference when you're dealing with children. It's a terrible black eye to believe that people are defending the proposition that there is anything worthwhile about that type of game."

I remember 20 years ago when SMU played at No. 1-ranked Notre Dame in SMU's first season back from the "Death Penalty." Led by coach Forrest Gregg, SMU's roster was made up of mostly freshmen players.

On the other sideline was Lou Holtz, who out of respect for Coach Gregg and empathy for his team's situation, directed his team to go easy on the young Mustangs. The final score was 59-6, though it could have been 40 points worse if not for Notre Dame's repeated intentional delay-of-game penalties.

At one point, a Notre Dame ballcarrier had a clear path to the endzone, but stepped out of bounds rather than score. According to one Irish player, "What was said was, 'If anyone scores, they'll be kicked off the team.'"

"These things happen when you're outmanned," Coach Gregg said after the game.

To say that the girl's team on the losing end of a 100-0 score was "outmanned" would be an understatement. Winning and losing are important lessons for kids, but it's hard to find a lesson in a 100-point loss.

Coach Holtz was criticized by many for ordering his players not to score, writing that "athletics are meant to be a test of competition."

I understand the importance of competition. I also understand the definition of "compassion."

"Deep awareness of the suffering of another coupled with the wish to relieve it."