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THE WINNING PITCH-November, 1999

RESPECT

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 takes.

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 action.

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?

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