The football committee of the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference, which governs high school sports, is adopting a “score management” policy that will suspend coaches whose teams win by more than 50 points.
This reminded me of two experiences in High School (one of which was a major life lesson to me), and got me thinking about the uses and abuses of competition.
Background: Back when I was in high school in Alaska, our football team was not the best in the state, nor the worst. We were dead in the middle – better than about half, worse than about half. Actually, this was pretty amazing considering we had only about 15 stable people on the Varsity team, meaning that most everyone played both offense and defense (and special teams). And, other than an army base high school, we were the only small school football team in the state – so generally we played the larger schools that often had 50+ people on the team.
First experience: I recall playing Wasilla one time and we got chewed out by the opposing coach for running up the score (we won by over 50 points). Except we hadn’t done that. By about the end of the first quarter, we realized we were going to trounce this team. Now, we could have just sat on the ball to avoid running up the score, but that’s considered somewhat rude (the equivalent of turning your back on an opponent in a duel – it clearly indicates you find him or her no threat at all and worthy of contempt). Besides, no one learns anything from that. Teams learn best by trying (even if it means failure) their plays and formations under real playing conditions.
So, instead of running them into the ground, we decided to try out some of more experimental plays. We even started switching positions (I was a lineman, but I believe I did a few plays as quarterback that game). We honestly tried our best not to run up the score – we even started playing the few Junior Varsity players who had earned the privilege of “suiting up” for the varsity game (though usually they never actually played in the games). It didn’t matter what we did, we couldn’t stop scoring.
Experience two: At the time, the worst football team in the state was Skyline (they have since gotten a lot better). They had the longest losing streak in the history of the state (spread over three or four seasons, IIRC). One game in particular they lost 89 to 0 against Soldotna. Nearly everyone in the state knows Soldotna played dirty, but even given that, they were one of the best teams in the state, and so it was no surprise they lost by so much.
Our team was scheduled to play them the next week. During that week, the players would (during practice) joke about how there was no need to practice that week, since we were playing Skyline – some even joked we didn’t even need to show up – we’d still win.
One of the coaches overheard that, and pulled the team aside and chewed them out. And then he gave a lecture that wound up being a major life lesson for me. The gist of it was this: “Do you think it was easy for that team to lose by that much and show up to practice the next Monday? To walk down the halls of their high school, and still decide they were going to play the next game? That team has real courage. To lose by so much and still show up to practice and to still give it your all in every game the rest of the season – that’s true guts. You guys may not like the Skyline team – that’s fine. But you had better respect them.”
Apparently, given the Connecticut story, self-esteem is more important than courage or learning how to cope with real defeat.
But this leads me to an even bigger problem: I often hear members of the church claim that competition is incompatible with the Gospel. Now, I haven’t done competitive sports since high school (barring a few intramural games my freshman year in college) [UPDATE: I now compete in Highland games and other strongman type stuff], though I still workout in the gym 5-6 days a week. But I learned many valuable lessons through sports in high school.
And while I recognize it’s possible to learn a lot of bad lessons from sports, that usually happens when you have a bad coach, rather than in the nature of the sport itself.
What think y’all?