I have been following a story closely over the last few months since it was made public that a highly respected NFL coach was paying players to intentionally hurt opposing players in order to swing the game in their favor.
An audio recording of then defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, has since been released in which Williams gives specific instructions (in explicit language no less – an absolute coaching pet peeve of mine), to injure their opponents. Who in their right mind would advise anyone to hurt anyone in a game except he or she is a person without integrity and a failed moral code of ethics? How can anyone feel good about injuring another human being for the sake of winning unless that person is a narcissistic bully and egomaniac whose only purpose in life is to subject others to his or her disgraceful and appalling agenda?
Perhaps even more frightening than listening to the pied piper is the fact that players actually obeyed his instructions. Whether they willingly conformed to the mad man’s plan for a few extra bucks or if they did it because they feared losing their jobs was a possibility is beside the point. I don’t go to my job and get instructions from my boss to hurt software developers or analysts in the next row of cubbies simply because they are better at their jobs! No, I go to work and try to figure out ways to be the best I can possibly be at my job while playing by the rules. Gregg Williams simply missed this principle in coaching school.
Today a good friend of mine met me for lunch and we broached the subject of coaching again as we often do when belaboring the ideals of youth sports. Our coaching conversations are atypical in the sense that we often discuss what we can do to better serve the youths in our charge more often than we talk about strategies for winning more games. Sadly, prowling the sidelines in any youth sport has revealed to me a startling, growing trend amongst coaches for teams of all ages and athletic abilities – the example of Gregg Williams is not an isolated incident albeit a much more public media monster who is being vilified for tactics that I daresay are employed by many coaches who have not been caught. Or is Gregg Williams really the only sociopath in the coaching profession today?
On the surface, sportsmanship and basic human decency seem to be on the decline as more and more coaches throughout the ranks seek to pile on the wins while preaching a ‘win at all costs’ message to their athletes. Cheating, it seems has become the ‘necessary evil’ for job security and player retention. My buddy Reno put’s it best, “I despise bullies!” and I join him in that sentiment. People who coach kids for the sake of instituting their master plan or advancing their own agenda do so at the risk of the team. Dictators have never been advocates for teamwork; they are just master manipulators at a bully pulpit.
As parents, administrators and peers are we allowing and enabling this type of behavior by ignoring the problem because being winners feels so much better than being losers? Are we so morally bankrupt as a society that we would rather teach our kids that winning is much more important than obeying the rules? What good does that do for our children if they grow up knowing that no matter what difficulties lie ahead in life, there is always a way to circumvent the laws, cheat the system or get ahead even it means cheating someone else out of something?
A few weeks ago I was watching one of my younger sons’ rugby team take on one of their rivals. I was appalled to hear one of their coaches yelling obscenities at the boys (12 and 13-year-olds no less) and imploring his players to gouge, kick, punch, stamp and claw at our players in the rucks. I was so surprised by this display of outright malevolence and spite that everything else in the world around me stood still as I focused all my attention on the evil spewing from this man’s mouth.
My surprise turned to annoyance, then frustration and then finally anger. It was by far one of the most damaging displays of arrogance I have ever seen in my life. That man’s outburst on the sidelines that day so adversely affected those boys that it is the only thing that they remember from that match; even the loss that blemished the wins-and-losses column in the record books meant nothing to them at that point. It was the poorest lesson in mentoring young minds and I wish that I could have recorded it to help leagues and organizations train their coaches on how not to coach and teach young people.
My high-horse is about to buck me off again but these things annoy me more than anything else I’ve encountered since coaching youth sports. I am in no way the model citizen because a lot of my players over the years have seen a darker side of my competitive nature. But the years have taught me many things including this – wins are important, but they should never cost you your dignity. Being a part of sports allows us to thrive in a competitive environment, but it also allows us a place to learn more about our character; it should never take away my integrity or hurt the emotional or physical state of my opponent. If I win or lose I will lose within the laws and whether or not my opponent admires and respects that is of no consequence to me. What does matter is that I played by the rules and my players respect that.