The month of March is one of the most exciting months in sports. Obviously, college basketball is entering tournament time. The NBA and NHL are starting to head towards the playoffs. Baseball is in full swing in spring training. The MLS season has just begun and professional golf and tennis are in the midst of competition. Today, more than ever, athletes, coaches and teams are in the spotlight. Last week, pro golfer Rory Mcilroy the number one player in the world, walked off the course during the second round of a tournament complaining of a painful wisdom tooth and withdrew from the competition. A couple of days later, he apologized for a mistake in judgment. He stated, “What I did was not good for the tournament, not good for the kids and the fans who were out there watching me – it was not the right thing to do.” I give Mcilroy a tremendous amount of credit for making a mistake, admitting it and moving on. He obviously recognizes that even at 23 years of age, he is a role model and needs to be aware of how he is perceived by others. However, the same cannot be said about many others.
Last summer, a youth hockey coach in Canada intentionally tripped two players on the opposing team as the teams went through the handshake line after a game. One of the 13 year olds who was tripped, fractured his wrist from the fall. As of the writing of this article, the incident has been viewed over 100,000 times on You Tube. The coach, Martin Tremblay, was charged with assault and sentenced to 15 days in jail. He has complained that his business has collapsed and his marriage has broken up.
This past week, two incidents occurred that have demonstrated the ugly side of sports. A fight broke out at the Stanford/California men’s basketball game. Two players and three coaches were suspended. According to Stanford coach, Johnny Dawkins, “ Emotions were running high. It was just guys playing hard.” This occurred just two weeks after Mike Montgomery, the California head coach shoved one of his players during a game to ‘fire him up”. After the game, Montgomery stated, “Worked didn’t it?” A couple of days later Montgomery apologized and stated, “I let my emotions get away from me in the heat of the moment.”
On March 9, during the World Baseball Classic, a fight broke out between the Canadian and Mexican teams. After a Canadian player led off the ninth inning with a bunt single, Mexico’s third baseman, Luis Cruz, gestured to the pitcher, Arnold Leon, to intentionally hit the next batter. When Leon then hit the next batter, Rene Tosoni, both benches emptied and a full-scale brawl began. Seven players were ejected, but not Cruz.
All of these incidents concern me for a variety of reasons. All can be viewed on the Internet. Numerous articles have been written about each. However, I am concerned about how these are all viewed by young athletes. For years I have talked about the importance of sportsmanship at all levels of sports, especially at the youth and high school level. I believe all of these incidents can become extremely positive teaching moments if youth coaches and parents approach them that way. But, they can become lightning rods for more issues if they are not discussed. Success and failure on the athletic field are determined from several issues. Physical and mental preparation both play a role. In my opinion, how we teach how to handle our emotions is of the utmost importance, especially for young athletes. Whether they want to be or not, professional and collegiate athletes and coaches are role models for younger competitors. They must learn how to recognize and control their emotions, especially when the intensity of the game is at its peak. They must learn the importance of proper sportsmanship and how it should be respected before, during and after a competition. And I believe that if they do make a mistake, dealing with it, and moving on will help younger athletes learn from it. If it isn’t, these incidents will become more prominent and lead to more problems. Your thoughts…