Sportsmanship – Trickier Than You Think

We have seen a bunch of discussions this year about sportsmanship. Whether it is Oklahoma and their amazing offensive juggernaut or Major League players violating the unwritten rules or just plain bad behavior from players, coaches and fans, there has been a very bright light shined on the idea of sportsmanship and what it means to different people.

So to be clear. I have been on both sides of this argument. I have been the coach of a team that has flat out gotten its butt kicked in a game that feels like it is never going to end. Before. the first inning is even in the books I have wondered if we were even going to be able to get enough outs to have the “run rule” kick in and end the misery. I have also been on the side where things just click for your team that day and it appears that every time your team swings they are getting a hit. And when they hit a blooper or weak ground ball that the other team can’t make a play. The score is running up and it starts to feel like a total mismatch.

How do we handle this conundrum? No one likes demoralizing another team but you also don’t want to keep your kids from playing the game the right way and trying their best to be successful. Each coach needs to decide how best to handle these situations when they arise but, you can assume that someone isn’t going to be happy, no matter what you do.

I have seen Oklahoma start subbing in kids in the second inning this season and still continue to score runs. I believe Coach Gasso did the right thing by subbing in some of her bench players and taking her starters out of the game. This to me, is a classy act that shows you have compassion for the opponent who is over matched. Now, the fact that these subs are also very talented players who want to take advantage of their opportunity and do their best seems logical to me as well. So if your opponent puts in their subs they are doing the right thing. Asking these same players to give anything less than their best effort would be most insulting thing that can happen. So sub them in and then let them play. You have done your best!

The unwritten rules are another topic all together. The idea that a players shouldn’t hit with a 3 – 0 count is absurd to me. Not stealing bases when you are ahead by 5 or 6 runs is crazy to me. Telling a slapper not to bunt because you are ahead by 5 or 6 runs is the dumbest thing ever. Kids should keep playing the game the right way no matter what the score and asking a player to do something other than what they normally do because the other team is overmatched today just rubs me the wrong way. Put in the subs but keep playing the game.

Bad behavior is another discussion all together. I know passions run high sometimes, but seeing an Old Miss player go out of her way to bump an umpire on national television is a bad look for everyone. Having fans scream and yell at 8 year-olds trying to pressure them into making an error so your kid can win a game is just plain sad. Having “super fans” screaming “ball 6, ball 6, ball 6” when a 12 year old is struggling to find the strike zone is kind of sad, and just as much for the fans and their misguided way of thinking as it is for the player getting chanted at. We just need to be better!

So all these situations make us wonder how sportsmanship will guide our interactions on the field. Here is one point that I want to be very clear on. I never wanted an opponent to take their foot off the gas when we played. If they were playing great and we were struggling it was up to us to figure it out. It was up to us to find a way to get the outs we needed to allow the run rule to kick in. I hate seeing a team step off the bases to give the other team an out. To me that is way more embarrassing than the number of runs that team might end up scoring. I would rather lose 15 to 0 with a team that respected us enough to keep playing hard that an 8 – 0 loss to a team that called off the dogs in the name of sportsmanship, and I think most of our players felt the same way.

And just to add a little context, our UW-Parkside team was on the verge of getting run ruled in a game one evening where they other team was rolling. We figured out a way way to keep the game alive. In the bottom of the seventh inning we got two quick outs and then something amazing happened. A walk, a hit, an error, a couple more hits and before you know it we had the winning run at the plate. One very exciting Grand Slam later we walked off with the most unlikely win of my career. Did the other team take their foot off the gas thinking they had it won? I don’t know but if they did they wished they hadn’t.