THE STRIKE ZONE
Sometimes Sports, Sometimes Sportsmanship
By Mark Gola
VP of Marketing and Publicity
There are moments in nearly every sporting event when a player, coach, or fan encounters a fork in the road. Do I take the path that allows my emotions to get the best of me and fall victim to a display of poor sportsmanship? Or do I take the path of discipline and show poise?
There are so many elements surrounding athletic events that we don’t control. Demonstrating good sportsmanship is a component that lies 100 percent within our control. When confronted with a situation riddled with turmoil, every coach, player, and parent gets to determine how they will handle their actions.
Let’s take a simple example of when an athlete encounters a fork in the road. Consider a baseball game where a batter is at the plate with the bases loaded and one out. It’s late in the game and the batter's team is down by one run. With a 2-2 count, the batter takes a called strike three. In that moment, the batter has a decision to make:
Listen, it’s not easy. Competitive juices are flowing; an opportunity to have a big moment was missed, composed with failure in front of everyone in attendance. But one must work at it, just like other aspects of the game. Further, any successful athlete will tell you that the most important play is the next play. If emotions can't be kept in check, the ability to focus on the next play will suffer.
Teammates will notice. Opponents will notice. Coaches will notice. Game officials will notice. Recruiters will notice.
Make the decision to become exceptional at sportsmanship. You’ll not only choose the right path at each fork you encounter, but you’ll begin to take others with you.
Topics like this and more are discussed regularly on How You Play The Game, the official podcast of OSIP. On January 1, OSIP founder Jack Furlong and chairperson Sean Ryan will produce their 100th episode of the program. Dale Scott will join them on the podcast, and Furlong will announce the release of his highly anticipated book, On Sportsmanship: A Critical Reader and Handbook. The mission of the book is to “reveal the steps to ensuring that each person does their best at treating others with respect in sports and competition.”
Tune in to listen to the podcast and also learn more about OSIP at osipfoundation.org.
The National Federation of High Schools (NFHS) is the group that oversees high school athletics in the United States. One of its biggest issues is the shortage of officials that is plaguing the nation.
Thankfully, NFHS Executive Director Karissa Niehoff sent a blunt message back in January in an editorial titled "Dear Mom and Dad, Cool it."
The numbers are stark. According to the National Association of Sports Officials (NASO), more than 75% of all high school officials quit due to adult behavior, and 80% of new officials step away after only two years of officiating.
The NFHS has recognized that these sportsmanship issues are growing because the poor behavior is not being controlled. Verbal and physical abuse is on the rise, so the NFHS hopes to be very direct with their approach.
The question that arises, though, is one of culture. Is it simply our culture that breeds this type of behavior? And if so, why? Are people, specifically coaches and parents, so blind to the fact that losing these officials will ultimately undermine the entire operation to the point of eventually not having high school sports?
One thought offered by Niehoff deals with the administrators taking an active role in this effort. Athletic Directors may need to divorce themselves from their association with their school and fandom and look to provide a good experience for all, regardless of affiliation. That means providing extra care for officials, policing fans, and speaking out against media berating. After all, many state associations overseeing high school athletics prohibit administrators from criticizing officials; do those need penalties need to be amplified?
All in all, the story is summed up properly in this quote from Mark Uyl in the article: find "one other endeavor in American society where we accept and tolerate one adult treating another adult the way that we allow spectators and coaches to treat an official."
Let me know when you find one that doesn't require a police escort.
The snow in New Jersey throughout March kept me from most of my baseball scrimmages, leaving me all of two games (only one behind the plate) to be ready for the regular season. However, one play during my final game proved a very important point.
With a runner on first base, the pitcher, while in the stretch, did not come to a complete stop. My partner correctly ruled it a balk as the pitch was delivered. The batter, however, swung and lined a base hit through the left side of the infield. Immediately, I came out from behind the plate and yelled, "TIME! DEAD BALL!" The first base coach, however, was already disagreeing with me. "You have to play that out! A balk is not a dead ball!"
"Yes it is, coach," I said. "In NFHS (high school) baseball, a balk is an immediate dead ball."
He immediately dropped his argument, which was amazing, in my opinion. But my partner took the time to explain it to him. The runner from first base was advanced to second, and the batter resumed his at-bat.
The conflict that arose is that, in OBR (official baseball rules, which is what MLB uses, as do many other forms of baseball), a balk is a delayed dead ball. That is, you wait for the play to be over before deciding to enforce the balk. In the case above, we would have let the play go, then given the offense the option of taking the balk penalty or the result of the play. However, high school rules do not allow this: they clearly state that the ball is dead immediately and the balk is enforced. It's an odd shame when something good happens, though...what if the batter hit a home run? You guessed it: I become the bad guy and have to nullify the home run to award the balk penalty.
Sometimes these rules don't make sense. But it's not my job, as the umpire, to debate the rules. I just have to enforce them. Further, the coaches should probably take the time to understand these rules as well. When offered a high school coaching job, it's not as simple as just teaching the game and leading the team. You have to understand that there are MAJOR DIFFERENCES between high school sports and other levels of those same sports.
As much as officials do their homework to know these odd rules, coaches need to do the same. After all, high school athletics are an extension of the classroom. They are another opportunity to educate student athletes on valuable life lessons. We, as coaches and officials, owe it to the kids to get it right.
Baseball player, umpire, coach, fan; professional musician; founder, President & CEO of The OSIP Foundation, Inc.