After the first week of the NFL season, the New England Patriots were accused of cheating. During their game against the New York Jets, a member of the Patriots staff was accused of videotaping the Jets sideline. This was done as an attempt by the Patriots to pick up the Jets defensive signs the coaches were relaying to the players on the field. The Patriots employee was caught and consequently, the Patriots organization and head coach, Bill Belichick were fined $750,000.00 and lost a first round draft pick in the 2008 draft. So why would a 3 time Super Bowl champion coach have to resort to cheating in an effort to win the game? The Patriots are one of the favorites to go to the Super Bowl once again. They are loaded with talented players and coaches. What reason could there be for such a successful team to cheat and end up being severely punished by the commissioner? What kind of example is this for young athletes and coaches? If a Super Bowl caliber team is going to cheat, why wouldn’t a team without the talent?
I believe that an athlete or coach that has to resort to cheating is doing it because they are insecure and lack the confidence in their talents and abilities to be the best. In the 26 years I have been working as a sport psychologist, I have dealt with this issue at all levels of competition. There have been Little League coaches who used players older than the age limit, golfers who would suddenly find a ball that no one else could find sitting up in the rough, tennis players who would repeatedly call shots out that landed in the court and basketball coaches who would pay off officials so that they could win the game.
The Olympic games are structured around the emphasis on fair play and competition. Yet, blood doping, steroids and deliberate mind games are common in today’s competitions. Cheating is done at all levels. It doesn’t know any boundaries or parameters and is done with one reason. That reason is to win. Any team or individual who has to resort to cheating, whatever the form, does it because they don’t feel confident enough about themselves to come out on top. They are scared that the competition may have an edge and they have to resort to cheating to keep up with them.
People cheat at sports, on tests in school, on their taxes and in relationships. When professional athletes cheat, it is done because they don’t feel they can win their game on their own laurels. They are scared and afraid that their competition may have an advantage which consequently results in their coming up with something outside of the rules to win. They are afraid their career could be over sooner than they would like and therefore feel they have to do whatever they can to win. Professional athletes are replaced every day.
So what do we do about it?
I believe part of the solution lies with the parents and coaches at the youth sport level. Almost every sport and every league has rules that we are asked to follow. However, almost daily we hear stories about coaches and parents who are breaking these rules. I don’t believe most young athletes come up with ways to cheat, they learn it form the adults. If you catch someone cheating, confront them about it. Go to the officials at the game, the administrators of the league and make them aware of it. The key to solving cheating is to be strong enough to confront the coach or team who is guilty of it. If you want your child or your team to have the best chance to succeed and most importantly to have fun, be assertive enough to speak your mind when you catch someone cheating. New York Jets head coach, Eric Mangini did it, and consequently opened the door for you to be able to speak your mind as well.