Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Coach, Let the Players Play

When it comes to youth sports, some stories just need to be retold. This day, the hometown (host) team was scheduled to play an international team in a regional tournament game. Youth baseball was at its best, under the lights; there was great anticipation in the air. The skies had grown increasingly dark as the day progressed and there was a growing sense of urgency to get the game started so the game could be finished that night. Suspending or postponing a game is never the first choice, especially in tournament play! Luckily, the previous game had finished ahead of schedule and this final game of the day was rescheduled to begin early.

It was a very close loser-out game; one of those truly hard fought competitive games. Unfortunately, the visiting manager informed the tournament directors in the top of the seventh that one of the host team players was wearing “an improper” number. Interestingly, tournament officials noted that the visiting team manager brought up the improper number issue only when the player in question was put into the game as pitcher in the seventh inning. At that time, they were unaware that the visiting team manager had previously brought this same issue to the attention of the umpire-in-chief, who had ruled it a non-issue. The player with the "improper" number happened to be one of the host team’s better players; he already had two at-bats prior to this time. However, because the manager brought the improper number issue to the attention of tournament personnel, the officials had to investigate.

The ethical question that overshadowed the investigation was, “Why now?” because it really did not matter about the player’s number at this point in the game. Play had to be suspended while tournament officials investigated the situation and learned of the previous ruling. All were in agreement that it was an essentially moot point because proper procedure had been followed at the initial report. Official rules refer to players, not numbers. The coach had delayed the game unnecessarily, but the officials handled it swiftly and thoroughly.

Even though coaches try everything to gain advantage to assist their team to the win, there are times when they need to accept the outcome and let the game play out. Wanting to win is one of the powerful purposes of play. However, when wanting to win drives a coach to misuse rules to confound the purpose of play, then perhaps it is time to accept defeat. The purpose of the coach is to provide encouragement, help the athlete improve skills, learn the rules of the game, and assist the athletes to develop to their full potential.

Let the players play the game, Coach!

By Susan Steele and Sharon Stoll, Center for ETHICS*, University of Idaho

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