THE WINNING PITCH-November, 1999
As the millennium draws to a close, I wonder what will happen in sports
in the next thousand years. The final hundred years of the last
millennium saw tremendous financial gain for owners and athletes. Being
a firm believer in the reward for work system, I applaud the apparent
progress. However, I wonder what the cost has been?
In order for any game to exist, there are some basic components that
come into play. There must be rules and boundaries which define the
contest. Once the contest is defined then the competitors must exist
and be willing to play. While large piles of money at the professional
level will ensure that there will always be someone willing to play the
game, the same is not true in amateur athletics.
Most games are played with nothing at stake other than the fun of the
contest. However, the volume of competition exists outside the pay for
play system. While most of my experience has been with high school
sports, I fully understand the impact on recreational sports created by
professional antics and life as revealed through the camera.
It would be easy to jump on the bandwagon of the people who lament the
loss of respect by blaming it on the villain of the twentieth century.
Television and movies have had a measurable effect on life as we know
it. But rather than blaming the process I choose to learn from it and
find a way to make it a positive.
In recent weeks I have witnessed National Football League players
prancing around on the field while simulating slashing their throats.
This is an obvious display of terminating an opponent. On the National
Basketball Association floors I watch gigantic men banging chests and
trash talking after almost every basket. What does this add to the
game? In Major League Baseball I watch grown men charge the mound
because a pitcher has the audacity to throw inside, even though this
same hitter wants to stand and watch a deep drive. Babe Ruth and Bob
Feller would call today's heroes "pansies."
You can blame the situation on an overall lack of respect in this
country for discipline and authority, or you can see it as a good
thing. Some may see it as the lingering effect of the "question
authority" attitude left over from the sixties. I see the whole thing
as a natural result of television and the movies. Many of the good
things that exist today were first revealed on film as part of the dream
of the creator of the movie or television show. This is most obvious
when considering the possibilities dreamed up by the authors of science
fiction. However, it is equally true when it comes to social behavior.
The trends in fashion have always been lead by entertainers. This is
easy to see. What has been more subtle is the impact on social demeanor
by the constant bombardment of emotional behaviors as revealed on the
screen. Just as it was once a novelty thirty years ago to watch a
famous singer finish his act by smashing his guitar, it is now unusual
to watch a lead singer perform with all of his or her clothes on. I'm
not a prude, in fact I'm not the least bit offended by a naked human
body, I'm merely pointing out the obvious. Things have changed a lot.
Once a performer moves outside the box of previously accepted behavior,
the restrictions that once existed expand to allow for the new conduct.
So where have we arrived? If you'd like to have an effect on the
future of sports I'll make a few suggestions.
1. Limit the celebrations at all athletic competitions to ones of
positive acknowledgment to the player who did well. There's nothing
wrong with players coming out of a dugout to greet the home run hitter
at the plate. Standing and watching a home run from the batter's box is
out of line.
2. Train your players to accept that playing well is a desired goal and
that acting out at every small accomplishment adds nothing to the game.
Group celebrating by defensive football players after making a tackle is
over acknowledgment for a small job that is the minimum expected of
them. It actually diminishes the true celebration of winning.
3. Bench any athlete who finds it necessary to go face to face with a
competitor in an exchange of spit. Chest thumping went out with the
cave men. In your face celebrations after a two-point basket in the
second quarter displays a lack of understanding of what winning a game
4. If any athlete ever says anything negative to an official during a
game, stop the competition and force the athlete to apologize in front
of everyone. It wont take long before the young players will stop and
consider the consequences before they rush to emotional judgement.
5. Warn parents, in writing as well as verbally, at a pre-season meeting
that unacceptable behavior towards opponents or officials will result in
your publicly chastising them during a game. If they persist, bench
their child. If that doesn't work, cut the player.
6. Let the parents and the players know that the head coach is the only
one authorized to discuss matters with the officials. Make sure that
your communications with officials and opponents are held to a higher
standard than your parents or players. This is a tough call for
coaches. Your players will want you to defend them when they feel
wronged. Sometimes they are justified. Handle your discussion with the
official in a professional manner.
7. Teach all other coaches to use this method of coaching.
8. Imagine the day your team is covered on television for the cool calm
manner in which they deal with winning and the respect your players show
for their opponents.
9. Imagine the day you see a movie where the calm actions of a sports
team during the pressure of performing are highlighted as the desired
10. Imagine your new definition of GAME FACE becoming a reality.
If you don't like the way it is today you can change it by using the
same method that changed it in the past. History always leaves clues.
Every journey starts with a commitment to take the first step. The only
question left is who has the courage to lead the charge?