Teaching Players to Play with Class
Posted by Dean Holden at September 15th, 2012
By John Russo
I first wrote this topic back in the early 1990s and have felt an obligation to put it in the column again every 8-10 years. It is an important topic in my mind. It’s really a sportsmanship issue – that is very much missing in football and basketball, but still exists for the most part in hockey and baseball.
I was first incited to write about it after watching an NFL football game with Deion Sanders playing. After a pass interception, Sanders did his infamous strut into the end zone, and then proceeded to do an ego trip demonstration that convinced me to turn to another channel. Later, I was thinking how much of that sort of thing exists these days in sports, especially in football and basketball and even to a lesser degree in hockey. That is not to say that all professional (and college) athletes act like jerks: the ones with class do not. In 2008-09, this kind of “celebration” and showing off is commonplace.
That brings us to today’s topic: having class and learning to be humble and gracious. With the professional athletic displays evident on television, coaches have a bigger challenge than they used to. When I played football, hockey and baseball, none of my teammates nor I would have even considered any sort of unreasonable display (other than reasonable joy and congratulations) after a goal, tackle, touchdown or base hit. It would not have been acceptable and it really also would not have been “cool.”
It is interesting to note that ego displays don’t really happen in baseball. The tradition and classiness of that sport has stayed intact over the years because the managers and owners have not been willing to have their teams and the whole sport “spoiled.”
It is important, I believe, that coaches at all levels of hockey, from mite through college, have a group discussion with their teams at the beginning of each season to lay down ground rules as to what is acceptable and what is objectionable behaviour in a variety of situations. The outline and discussion for such a meeting might include the following:
• Displays after goals, hard checks, etc. It is acceptable to show honest joy after scoring and to share the congratulations among teammates. It is not acceptable to make any remarks or signs to the other team in a demeaning manner or to make exaggerated displays that bring undue attention. It is always unacceptable to gloat over hard checks.
• After an injury to an opposition player. It is acceptable to show concern for the injured player then to assume a neutral position at your own bench. It is never acceptable to make any negative comments to an injured player’s teammate no matter what the circumstance. It is expected that the coach will assist the injured player in any way possible.
• When the game is over and your team has won. It is expected that all players and coaches will be humble and congratulate the team members for a good game and to tell their coach you appreciate the game and the competition. It is unacceptable to gloat and make any negative comments about the other team no matter what the score.
• When the game is over and your team has lost. It is expected that all players and coaches will be gracious losers. Learning how to lose and be gracious is not the same as learning to lose or not caring if you lose. It is expected that players and coaches will shake hands and congratulate the winning team and coaches for a good game. It is unacceptable to make “revenge” comments or to refuse to shake hands no matter how the winning team acts.
• After a penalty has been called on you or a teammate, or a disputed call by referee or linesman. It is unacceptable to show any display or disagreement to the referee or the opposition. A vast majority of penalties and other calls are justified and warrant no argument. Any discussion about the penalty should be by the coaches and/or captains only and should be in a reasonable manner. Arguments and consistent badgering of referees and linesmen will invariably hurt your team in the long run.
• During national anthems and presentation ceremonies (at tournaments). It is expected that players and coaches will be respectful of the situation and not engage in distractive actions.
There are a few other little things that help make up a class team. Some examples are helping the official with pucks after whistles and thanking the referees (after every game).
Conformance to these guidelines makes playing the game of hockey more enjoyable and more “honourable.” Players that are jerks somehow reduce the honour of the sport and take something away from the game. Most of the items are pretty easy to remember and are not unreasonable. Take a close look at the whole process at your next game, however, and you will find many of them being violated.
It will take some monitoring by coaches throughout the season to teach this very important aspect of sports. Coaches must also monitor themselves. It is impossible to teach lessons to players if all coaches are not following the rules themselves.
I will never forget a scene that I observed at a state tournament many years back. The game was just ending and one player had scored a hat trick and was obviously going to be engulfed by cameras and the press. The assistant coach (who was also the player’s father) gave him a big hug – and also reminded him discreetly and gently to be humble and to give proper credit to his teammates. This coach and father certainly had his priorities right and had the presence of mind to continue to provide great direction at an important time for one of his players, and his son.