I cringed when I first heard the headline: Jackie Robinson West to be stripped of their Little League title. I spun my head around so that I could actually see the television screen and confirm that I was not hearing things.
I had been so proud to watch these young men from the South Side of Chicago defy socioeconomic statistics while confirming their own talents. Their athleticism had been showcased in the 2014 Little League World Series for the whole world to see, but it was their sportsmanship that caught my eye. The postgame smiles and genuine hugs that they shared with their opponents, showed a level of class in victory that some major league players should be encouraged to emulate. To hear that their on the field accomplishments would be nullified because of alleged off the field violations regarding residential boundaries was a stunning blow that tainted one of the best “feel good” stories of last year.
There is a lot of debate as to the parties responsible for allowing young men from outside the legal residential perimeters to play on the team named after the African- American baseball player who broke the major league color line. Was it the team’s coaches or administrators; or was it the Little League Association officials who were supposed to vet and check the status of all players before allowing them to compete. Regardless of who was the guilty party, adults dropped the ball and children were penalized.
This happens far too many times in youth sports where the focus should always be the children. Youth baseball is not the only sport where adults steal the spotlight for questionable and sometimes unacceptable behavior. Every football season, YouTube and ESPN are rife with video of youth football games that deteriorate into brawls featuring adult coaches fighting with game officials or opposing coaches. Images of crying children holding helmets or tugging on their adult mentors imploring them to stop fighting are a frightening testament to how often adults let their personal agendas and egos supersede the concepts of fair play and sportsmanship.
The incidents of adults tainting the youth sports experience also extends to parents. When a young athlete shows promise in their sport of choice, too often parents begin pushing the child to a point that winning is the only thing, and the performance of their child becomes more important than the performance of the team. They yell at coaches for more playing time, question play calls that don’t include their young superstar, and belittle other young players who may not possess the skills and talents that their child may have. As adults, we should not only know better, we should do better.
Some of the best memories that I have are associated with the role that I played as a youth sports coach in baseball, basketball and football. Teaching kids the fundamentals of the game, consoling them when things did not go our way, inspiring them to play at their highest level while understanding that win or lose, you must always carry yourself with class and dignity. There was never any room to relive my High School glory days or drive a child so hard that they equated practice to punishment.
There is a competitive spirit in almost all of us. There are very few of us who enjoy losing and it would be a poor coach who does not encourage a winning attitude in their youth players. As adults, however, we have to set boundaries and never allow the will to win to become greater than the will to be a positive role model to the children that play the game.
Richard McCulloch is a Marketing Executive specializing in Higher Education and Not-for-Profit Marketing. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.