For The Love of the Game

Sunday, February 1, 2009

As we approach the Super Bowl, I've been thinking alot about a girls high school basketball game played in Texas that some of you might have heard about and sport being played for the love of the game.

You might have seen a couple of news items about a girls high school basketball team in Dallas, Texas that beat another school 100-0. The winning school sought to forfeit the game at one point, in a statement made in the wake of all the publicity that was generated by the huge discrepancy in the game's score, Kyle Queal, the head of the Covenant School, said "It is shameful and an embarrassment that this happened," he also said that the forfeit was requested because "a victory without honor is a great loss." Dallas Academy, the "losing" school, only has 20 students in total, so class sizes are small and the specialize in teaching students with "learning differences," like short attention spans or dyslexia. Edd Burleson, the director of the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools said "On a personal note, I told the coach of the losing team how much I admire their girls for continuing to compete against all odds,"."They showed much more character than the coach that allowed that score to get out of hand. It's up to the coach to control the outcome." I was really amazed to see some of the comments posted after the stories.

Sports can be such a positive influence in life. Playing on a team can teach us so much about teamwork, while the sports that focus more on the individual can teach us a lot about striving for our goals in life. The team sports can teach us about leadership. The successful teams have a wide variety of leaders, coaches, managers, trainers, and so on. They go to show that there is more than one leadership style that leads to success. If you're lucky you might have been influenced by one of those such coaches. Maybe you were just influenced by a coach that didn't even win the big games but that taught you character traits that you wanted to emulate and incorporate into your own life.

There are those coaches and teams that live by the creed of winning at any cost and those coaches that have been hot heads acting like spoiled children that didn't get their ways, forgetting that thousands, maybe millions of people were watching them. I have to believe that those coaches and teams might prevail in the short term for a season, a year, maybe a few years but it is solid teams with good leadership and inspire true teamwork motivating players to often give more of themselves than they thought possible, that stay successful and will be thought of as dynasties in the annals of sports history and fans memories long after they've left the field.

It is exciting to see kids playing sports because the want to. How great it is to see a kid discover that they're good at something (maybe for the first time in their young lives). Your heart warms to see a kid's pride in a great play. On the other end, how your stomach can sour watching parents trying to force their athletic dreams on their kids and the bad sportsmanship that some of them show in little league baseball or soccer games.

Many professional athletes have felt that they weren't role models and it didn't matter what they did off the field, they were only paid to play the sport. Kids are very impressionable and they do emulate what their favorite athletes do, often wanting to be just like them, so while we're all human and it can be very hard living in the fishbowl that is professional sports today, the athletes need to remember that those stupid things they do will be watched by many kids the world over. Without fans and their dreams there wouldn't be a paycheck to be earned by the professional athletes. So at the very least they could think twice (or maybe even just once) before they open their mouths or do that crazy thing that they'll regret in the morning.

College sports has become too much of a business, often a farm system for the pros. It used to be that athletes went to college to play sports and get an education. While it would be naive to think that everyone got a good education (because some clearly were only passed because they were needed by their athletic programs because they were so good at their sport and were so critical to the success of the program), at least players got degrees and had something to fall back on if their dreams of playing in the pros didn't happen or was cut short by career-ending injuries. Then it seemed to start with basketball, that players went pro before graduating, first some went back later and then it got to the point that most didn't go back to finish their degrees. Later going pro early moved into football. There has certainly been a lot of scanal over the years about various schools breaking the rules about recruiting, out of control alumni recruiting kids to play at their former schools with cars, money, and other favors that are against the rules of college sports. From time to time there are calls to pay players because of the time and effort that they put into playing sports, that this is time that they can't study or hold a "real" job to pay for their expenses. There are the debate between the academics and the athletic departments about the influence of the sports programs on the schools and the credibility the school. There is little doubt that a winning sports program draws money to colleges and universities and can have a hallow effect on the school.

How many of us have suffered the embarassment of being the last one selected to play dodgeball, with neither of the selecting captains wanting to select you. It is probably this memory that sparks our love for the underdog. We love to see the group of misfits come together and beat the Goliathic. We love to see a team organize a comeback when they're down and out, that effort to score in the last moments of the game, winning as the buzzer sounds. How many of us have dreamed of hitting the game winning homerun in the seventh game of the world series or being the winning quarterback in the Super Bow? Somehow our sense of just is vilified, when we see a level playing field where anything is possible and anyone can win.

I don't remember the first that I heard of the Special Olympics but they recently celebrate their 4oth anniversary. Over the years they've had a vision "to bring sports training and competition to people with intellectual disabilities, so that they might break free of society’s expectations and have fun, earn respect and be accepted in their communities". They've been able to bring pride and a sense of accomplishment to so many deserving people over the years. You can see the sense of pride of these athletes when they're competing and win they finish their event, regardless of is they cross that finish line first or last.

Competition is a hallmark of sports. The competition elevates us to another level. The better the people or team that we're competing against the better we perform and we can do things that would not have been possible if we didn't have competition. The competition also causes us to think of strategies, game plans, and opens up our minds to the forces of creativity. Some legends of the sports world have been fuled by famous competitions with rivals. Some of the rivalries have been heated and mean-spirited while others have been more respectful with the rivals on the field becoming best of friends off the field.

I have a lot of respect for the various coaches that doing it because the love the sport and want to help others. So many of the coaches of kids sports and in the various recreational leagues aren't paid or aren't anywhere near what their time is worth. These coaches take pride in watching kids and adults learn to play their sport and in watching the develope as athletes and as people. Many of our high school coaches might have been paid a little more to coach, but most certainly didn't get rich and did for many reasons other than the paycheck.

As long as I can remember I've been a fan of the Dallas Cowboys. This probably stems from my love for my grandfather, who in turn loved his Cowboys coached by Tom Landry. Landry was one of the most successful coaches in professional football and won 2 Super Bowls. He coached a ton of players over the years and some of his assistants (i.e. Mike Ditka and Dan Reeves) give him credit for their
success as coaches. Mike Ditka has said
"Everything I believe in as a head coach, I learned from Coach Landry". Bob Lilly was quoted talking about a lowpoint for Landry and the Cowboys coming after a loss to Pittsburgh in October 1965, Lilly said. "He really felt low after we lost at Pittsburgh (22-13). It had been predicted we would be pretty good for the first time that season, but that was our fifth straight loss after winning the first two...He cleared the locker room of everybody except the players, then told us how proud he was of our effort. But he was disappointed with the results (the Cowboys were 20-51-4 after 5 1/2 years under Landry). 'I may not be here next year,' he said, 'but I want you guys to know I think the world of you.' Then, he broke down and started crying. That really touched all of us. We knew we had to play harder...That day at Pittsburgh was the turning point for the Cowboys...That made us start playing like winners. We still had doubters, though, until we won that Super Bowl in New Orleans (beating Miami, 24-3). "Anybody who ever coached against him understands that you don't win as much as he did by accident," Forrest Gregg said. "He worked and lived an example." When George Allen met with the players on his first day as the Washington Redskins' coach in '71, he boldly said "'We're going to beat Dallas.' I knew that if we couldn't beat Dallas, there wasn't any sense in issuing new equipment." Dick Vermeil, a former coach of the Philadelphia Eagles said, "We based our whole program on beating Tom Landry... It was respect for him that motivated us. I always felt that the Cowboys were the best-disciplined team on game day, especially on defense."

Many sports fans really appreciate those players that do it for the love of the game. Those athletes that would do what they do even if they didn't get paid and there were no fans in the stands. There is a certain purity in those that play for the love of the game. Back in December I watched Leatherheads, where George Clooney played a professional football player back when playing professonal football was more of a hobby as the players didn't make enough money to live off of their football salaries and they definately did it more for the love of the game than for the financial reward.

So heres to all the kids playing baseball in the sand lots, playing hoops in the school yards and playgrounds, and playing soccer everywhere and to those coaches inspiring and teaching the kids. I hope that your interest in sports doesn't get corrupted and jaded and that you can always play for the love of the game. Did you have a memorable coach? Did you have a dream season? Do you have any other comments our questions, feel free to make your voice heard in the comments.

For more information about Tom Landry you might want check out...

Photo Credit:
Buffalo Bills football 5 courtesy of nick12