In the Age of “Everybody Wins”

Sometime in the recent past, psychologists told moms, dads and their teachers that it was bad for the self-esteem of children to lose. We started to have a shift in mindset so that in leagues and schools across the country, the net result of athletic competition was that “everyone won.” Every kid received blue ribbons and trophies whether their team was in first place or last; weather they won a “squeaker,” or were trounced 100 – 23. It was supposed to be good for the psyche and good for self-development.

Prep Schools TankThe world, of course, doesn’t work that way.

We each have our talents, that is true but those talents don’t always carry over to the field of play. The team that scored “23” may have students on it who will go on to medical school, become award winning novelists or develop the next huge social networking tool, while the team that scored “100” may have a future guy who takes out the trash at your local fast food restaurant. However, when the teams take to the court, one team has more talent than the other and that’s the way it goes.

The Associated Press (February 24, 2015) ran an article that talked about two girls basketball teams, Riverdale and Smyrna who were playing for a post-season berth. This event took place in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, but it could have taken place most anywhere.

The winner of the game between Riverdale and Smyrna would have to face Tennessee’s defending Class AAA prep champion Blackman. I need to back up just a bit and say that both Riverdale and Smyrna have pretty good records in their own right. It appears now that they may have been facing a lot of chumps prior to their meeting, because in the game in question, when the coaches knew that (if they won) they would have to face Blackman, they tried to “tank,” to intentionally lose. By intentionally losing, they knew they could get by Blackman and make it into the playoffs.

It wasn’t the appearance of tanking, the intention with which they tried to lose was both embarrassing and obvious. It was so bad, the Tennessee Secondary School athletic Association fined and suspended both teams.

“The programs at Riverdale, a state champion in 2013, and Smyrna were fined a total of $1,500 each Monday and also placed on probation for a year by the TSSAA executive director Bernard Childress wrote Monday in letters to the schools’ principals that the teams ‘made a mockery’ with intentional turnovers off various violations and missed free throws. The referee also reported he stopped play ordering the coaches not to make a travesty of the game with a Smyrna player about to shoot at the wrong basket.”

Everybody wins, everybody loses

Don’t blame the kids for this debacle, blame the coaches. In this era of “everybody wins,” the coaches preferred that their athletes tank a game rather than face the possibility of a defeat by a superior team.

Of course, there is also the possibility that Riverdale or Smyrna could have played their hearts out and beaten Blackman in the next game, but such a possibility did not occur to the coaches.

The prospect of winning against the odds did occur to Herb Brooks when his U.S. team played the Soviet Union in the miracle on ice; it did occur to Kansas State when they defeated a superior KU team the other night; it did occur to the Boston Red Sox when they came back to beat the Yankees in the world series and on and on.

Who really loses? The kids, of course. When the coaches told the teams to tank so that they avoided Blackman, what they really said was, “We don’t believe in you.” It is the “Anti-Hoosier Movie” message.

Perhaps the coaches could not stand the notion that they would have to go to their teams to console them after a loss to a stronger team. In the age of “everybody wins,” consolation isn’t necessary. Everyone gets the blue ribbon.

The second message here is a subtle coaching message: “You are girls, girls basketball doesn’t matter.” Instead of the coaches telling their athletes to play their hearts out, the subtle message is: “Well, it’s only a stupid game and who cares?” Who cares? It should be all of us. The coaches played the “Anti-Title IX” message.

The final message is how unethical all of this was. The coaches and their teams made a mockery of everything sports should stand for: integrity, sportsmanship, team pride and fair play. They made competition into a joke.

You cannot fault a woman or man for suffering a defeat on the field of play if they have truly tried their best. It is why players shake hands or even hug after a hard fought match. Life can work that way too.

The girls who tanked – and were suspended, learned almost nothing from this experience except – perhaps, that they have no trophy to polish or blue ribbons to wear.

 

 

 

 

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