THE STRIKE ZONE
Sometimes Sports, Sometimes Sportsmanship
I'll admit that I'm guilty of not knowing this existed, and I founded the whole foundation!
The first Tuesday of March each year is National Sportsmanship Day, which entitles everyone to use another hashtag on social media. And as per some of my original philosophical questioning, I ask why we need a day honor sportsmanship when it should be something we are practicing every day. For the record, I ask the same question about other holidays such as Mother's Day/Father's Day, Independence Day/Memorial Day, etc.: shouldn't we be remembering our parents and veterans and history all the time?
But the trick is that we need to remember we are human and need a concrete way to remind ourselves of the importance of each issue. Just because we celebrate something for one day doesn't mean we don't remember it all year. So when we frame these questions in this particular context, it's actually a bit comforting to see that observing the celebration is not mutually exclusive from the reflection or application intended.
To that end, a tip of the hat goes out to SUNY Oswego in upstate New York thanks to the sociology department, chaired by Tim Delaney. Each year, around the same time that we celebration National Sportsmanship Day, Delaney and SUNY Oswego host their Sportsmanship Day Symposium to bring attention to the importance of sportsmanship.
If it wasn't a six hour drive to attend, I'd be heading up immediately!
As we look back at the basketball season, there is actually something that stands out to me that may not stand out to the majority of other people. There has been a significant rise in technical fouls, resulting in a less-than-stellar relationship between referees and team personnel.
If you're not familiar with how the technical foul system works in basketball, take the time to look it up before continuing. And even if you are, take the time to review how it differs from league to league, especially in terms of fines and suspensions.
I mention that last part because of the evidence that will really make you scratch your head: Draymond Green actually budgets money for his technical fouls.
You read that right: while wearing the uniform of the Golden State Warriors, a team that is highly touted as arguably the best in the west during this time period, Green has no regard for the shame of the punishment. He keeps cash aside to pay for the fines so that he can act outlandish.
That's the equivalent of saving money for speeding tickets just so that you can watch cops get out of the car in the rain for your enjoyment.
The NBA has a technical foul problem. Thankfully, the league has begun to attempt to fix this, unveiling a program that was implemented in February of this year to better educate all parties on the subjects and create a better understanding between all involved in the hopes of creating empathy that will reduce the amount of technical fouls assessed. The goal is not to remove the emotion from the game, but rather to prevent an escalation of behavior into inappropriate actions that would be wrong in any walk of life.
Look at it this way. In scholastic athletics, officials sometimes use this mantra in explaining to coaches/adults (who are usually also teachers in some way) why they can't act a certain way: if you wouldn't do it in the classroom, what makes you think you can do it here? Think about that. If a teacher wouldn't allow a student to behave inappropriately during class, why should that teacher think he/she can then act out on the playing field when school is over and he/she is now coaching a team?
To bring it full circle, when professional athletes realize that they are equal parts entertainer and athlete, maybe it will sink in a bit more. Fans don't come to watch you argue or get ejected. You get to play a game for a living...a real lucrative living. So grow up and play the game the right way.
If you look at the coaching tree that sprouts from Bill Walsh and Mike Holmgren within the confines of the NFL, you'll see a lot of recognizable names.
One thing you may not know, however, is a pretty interesting thought passed from Walsh to Holmgren regarding how to properly coach your team.
Walsh made it a point to tell Holmgren about the importance of moral as it flows from the coach to the player(s). You can spend all of practice yelling at your team, but when practice is over, the most important thing a coach can do is to make sure you tell each player something good about them. The players need to walk off the field with a good feeling, knowing that their coaches support them and that all the work from practice will be worth it.
The sad part is that this type of love is not always remembered by a large chunk of coaches, especially at younger or lesser levels. How many high school coaches berate their kids in order to try to guarantee that championship? How many college coaches run their kids into the ground because they think the sport is more important than the studies? How many minor league coaches use it as a way to weed out the pure professionals?
This is just another testament to the importance of psychology in sports. This isn't to say that practice shouldn't be tough or demanding, but players (especially younger players) need to know that their superiors recognize their hard work. If more players felt this kind of love, imagine how positive the results could be on game day!
Referee Magazine recently published an article about what the best officials keep doing. The article made a point to define what the author meant by this, but it essentially came down to the fact that the best officials never stop getting better, nor do they become complacent with "arriving" at the top of their game.
It's something of a natural reaction for us to take a step back and a deep breath when we finally reach the pinnacle of our journey. When the end of the school year arrives, we usually don't spend the next day doing homework! And in theory, not only is there really nothing wrong with this, it can be significantly healthy for us to take a step back and relax.
But like everything else in life, when we stop using a skill, a muscle, or a part of our brain for a significant period of time, we can forget how to use it. It's similar to how we might forget how to get somewhere if we haven't been there in a while. And officials can't let themselves do that.
The real point, though, is not so much about reaching the end of the physical year, but rather the top of the profession. When the baseball season ends, umpires don't look for another opportunity to strap on the gear and work the plate. They cherish the time they have at home, relaxing, spending time with their families, etc. But the good officials realize that even if they're the oldest, longest tenured officials with the most important assignments, they have to maintain that level and continue to get better, rather than "throw their weight around."
The job of the official is to start out perfect, then get better from there. Think about that for a second...that sounds like something Yogi Berra would say! But it's true. No matter your profession, remember that complacency at the top opens up an avenue for someone beneath you to usurp your glory.
Baseball player, umpire, coach, fan; professional musician; founder, President & CEO of The OSIP Foundation, Inc.