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What has happened to "integrity"?
by Terry Carlin


January 10, 2005

I have coached kids in high school baseball, little league baseball and dribblers league basketball over the past 25 years in Ketchikan. I have also officiated both baseball and basketball at all levels during these same years. I don't know a lot, but I do know a little, about coaching youth sports. In the last few years I have become aware of something that is taking place in our high school sports that I totally disagree with. That is the fairly recent practice of some coaches infringing on the seasons of other coaches, and of coaches holding off-season practices during another sports' season.

Just this year I have heard of girls high school basketball players, during basketball season, having to make the choice of going to their basketball practices and games or going to a softball event (camp, tournament, etc.).

I have heard of boys basketball players having to make the same choice, during basketball season, about soccer events. And so it goes. I know that during this basketball season (and last), the softball, soccer and baseball coaches are holding off-season practices and events. Sometimes these practices and events interfere with basketball. Players should not have to make these choices. These choices are forced upon them by coaches who only care about the sport they coach, their own selfish goals, and have total disregard for what other coaches are trying to accomplish. Not to mention the pressure coaches are so unnecessarily putting on these kids. A student who wants to play two different sports, whose starting and ending dates do not overlap, should not have to make a choice of playing only one or the other because coaches feel the necessity to have off-season practices and events. Don't try and argue to me that if they can't handle it then they should quit one of them. If they have to quit one of them it is only because they were forced to by a coach who does not have their best interests in mind when he or she decides to schedule off-season practices or events.

Is this right? Is this fair? I don't believe it is. I think all the coaches currently coaching a sport at the high school need to get together and knock it off. Why do I think this? Because I see most players dedicate themselves totally to the sport they play, and then a few players who are not as dedicated because they choose to disregard their teams practices or games during the season and go participate in another sport, albeit temporarily. This would be OK I guess if the coaches would apply fair treatment to the players who choose to leave the team during the season to participate in another sport. Fair treatment to me would be less playing time (a lot) for the players who choose not to be dedicated to the team they are currently playing on and should be committed to. But that isn't what I see happening. What I see is that the coaches (some) put winning ahead of any type of fair treatment of players. This, in my humble opinion, is wrong.

As far as practices in the off-season, what is that all about? Every sport at the high school has an official starting date. It should start on that date. I could be mistaken, but aren't there rules governing high school sports ( Alaska State Athletic Association) that prohibit a high school coach from having any organized practices until the official starting date of the season? Somebody (Activities Director?) should be enforcing this rule. When I have asked about this I have been told things like, "everybody else does it so we have to do it (cheat?) to stay competitive". Or, "they aren't really organized practices". Then why is the coach in charge of these practices and why are they only open to a select few? Come on coaches, play by the rules.

I understand that we now have more high school sports than in past years (good), and that their seasons sometimes overlap (bad). I believe that if two seasons overlap then a student should have to choose one or the other, so they can fully dedicate themselves to the one they choose. If a student is interested in participating in athletics I believe they can choose at least two sports that don't overlap with each other. The students who want to play 3 or even 4 however are going to have overlap, in which case I believe these students will not able to dedicate him or herself fully to any of them. And yet, especially if you are a really good player, you are not held accountable for missing practices or games due to participation in another sport. You still get more playing time than the players who do not miss practices or games and are totally dedicated to their sport, their team, and their coach. I believe some of our coaches (obviously!) are willing to look the other way in order to increase the chances of winning when the issues involve the more talented players. This is not only unfair to all of the kids but is also, as I and many other coaches have proven, is done under a false pretense. Having the most "talent" does not always mean you will win. And having the least "talent" does not always mean you will lose. What some coaches don't seem to be able to grasp (my opinion) is that you are much more likely to win a state championship, the ultimate goal of our high school teams, if you pay more attention to picking and playing the "right" kids rather than the most "talented". Sometimes they are one in the same and sometimes they are not. There are so many more reasons why a team wins (especially a state championship) than simply having "talented" players. To me the definition of "dedicated" includes everything that "talented" does not.

Even though coaches tell their players that off-season practices are not mandatory, and will not effect their standing on the team, this is only true if you are a really good player. I have seen evidence these past few years in our high school sports that if you are a really good player coaches are more likely than not to hold you to a much different standard (lower) when it comes to behavior, both on and off the playing field. What has happened to "integrity" in our high school sports programs? Does the desire to win trump everything?

I have the highest respect for a few of our high school coaches. I have absolutely no respect however for the rest of them. But why should they care, respect is not something they strive for. Winning baby, that's what it's all about.

I say it its time to get it together. Coaches, quit infringing on other sports. If you are going to do something in the off-season then ask somebody else to handle it. And invite every student, not just a select few. Do not say it isn't mandatory to attend these off-season practices and then hold it against players who are too busy with another sport, homework, etc. to attend. And make sure whatever you do it does not interfere whatsoever with the sport that is currently playing its season. Don't do your best to get around the rules, do your best to follow them. This would set a good example for our kids wouldn't it?

I have heard most of the arguments in opposition to what I am saying. To me they don't hold any water. Maybe there is a new one I haven't heard yet that could change my thinking on this. However, I will never change my thinking on "fair play". If I was a high school coach now I would ask all the players trying out, before I made my picks, if they would be missing any practices or games during the season due to participation in another sport. I would not pick any player who said yes, regardless of ability. And any player who said no, and then later changed their mind, would be immediately dropped from the team. I would make sure all players were aware of my " team rules" and I would apply them fairly. I would never take into consideration the ability of a player when applying these rules. Off- season practices? Hogwash! Totally unnecessary and only done by coaches who do not have the best interests of the kids in mind. These kids are not preparing for the 2008 Olympics! I say let our kids who enjoy playing sports take a little breather once in awhile, without being penalized for it, as there are other things in life for kids to experience. A coach's desire to win a championship should not be jammed down our kids throats. Back off coaches! Pick some good kids for your teams, treat them all fairly, work hard during "the season", play fair, play hard, and strive to win. But, win or lose always make sure that the team, and yourself, walks away with your integrity intact. I guarantee you most of the kids years from now will not remember, or will not care, about the won-loss record of their high school teams. But they will remember just about everything else. GO TEAM!

Terry Carlin
Ketchikan, AK - USA


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