Maybe you saw this crazy story earlier this week about a team intentionally losing a game for the purpose of knocking out another team – and giving themselves a favorable draw the rest of the way out:
Now – used to, I would have just rolled my eyes a bit and moved on. But now that I have children I find that these kinds of incidents force me to think about what I really believe should happen, and what would I do, as a parent, if my child were involved in this game.
And in this case, the answer to the latter came pretty clearly. If a team my son is a part of begins to do what this team did – bunt the whole time, play below their abilities, lose on purpose – then my next step is to walk over and try and talk to the coach, after which, if the charade continues, I would collect my child and leave the park. He would not be allowed to participate on that team, or any other team coached by that person, again. Even if that meant missing a trip to the Little League World Series.
In professional sports, where men and women make a living by winning games and where winning games is the objectively superior goal, I could see this kind of game theory being OK. Still bad sportsmanship, but acceptable on some level. For Little Leaguers, though, not a chance. If and when my sons play Little League baseball, the purpose of being on that team will not be “winning”. Don’t get me wrong – winning is nice. But my kids will play Little League in order to learn how to become better people. In order to understand what it takes to win – hard work, team chemistry, a little bit of luck – and what it is like to lose. And how to win, and lose, with grace and maturity. The winning or losing of the games is beside the point. As I said very recently – its a journey, not a destination.
And furthermore, I would expect that my son’s coaches would understand this. Would understand that the decisions that they make about winning and losing and how to play the game and respect the process impact these children and the approach they will take to any activity potentially for the rest of their lives. Any coach that doesn’t understand this doesn’t get the opportunity to be a leader or mentor for my children.
If I were the coach of the other team, after one or two innings of this I’d collect my kids and leave – forfeit the game. I’d teach my kids that they get to stand up for themselves, and they don’t have to take it when they are being disrespected like that.
The solution that the league came up with here is compelling but not harsh enough. This team should be summarily thrown out of the tournament. And, even if the team is not thrown out, the coach should not be allowed to continue in that position.
In some ways, I’m very much looking forward to my children becoming involved with these kinds of activities. But, and this story reminds me, in some ways I dread it. We’ll see.
EDIT: I saw this within minutes of making this post. He says it better (though bluer) than I did here.