Growing up as a member of the "baby boomers" generation, playing sports was always seen to be an important and positive activity. My parents, my teachers and their peers believed that athletic competition built character, integrity and a sense of teamwork. They felt these were invaluable qualities to be developed on one's journey to adulthood and independence.
Thus, every sports activity from my pick up hockey games on the neighborhood lake to my varsity basketball games, all stressed the same things: do your best, you are a part of team effort and always play with good sportsmanship.
To be a good sportsman was always the constant refrain of all of my coaches from little league to college competition. I remember as a little boy being given a code of conduct for an athlete and a code of conduct for the parent's of athletes. Both myself and my parents were expected to act in a certain way. My coaches made it clear that if either I or my parents were non-compliant, there would be a serious consequence.
Over the last twenty years, our human landscape regarding athletes has changed dramatically. Sports competition, which was once the centerpiece of most junior high and high school boys, is unfortunately an activity not being pursued by the multitudes. Equally as troubling, those who opt to play sports often do not have the same passion and commitment that the generation before them once had.
Competitive sports should complete the life circle and not cause a detour or a disaster. High school sports should not be pursued like the "Pros." The teenage athletes should be encouraged to have a life other than the sport they are playing. Winning is not the only thing.
Growing and becoming a whole person is much more important. Teamwork is important, as is positive sportsmanship. Those virtues will build real character and integrity.
In generations past, athletes were positive role models and leaders within their respective communities. They were not holy rollers, but were often young men and women who worked hard in school, hard at sports and tried to make a positive contribution to the larger community.
Today that positive equation has become somewhat fragmented. A growing number of athletes are not positive role models. They live on the edge. At times, they even live recklessly, don't study and are too often consumed with winning for their team at all costs.
In years past, there was an honor code that athletes lived by (at least during the season). As a coach, you knew for the most part that most of your athletes would be very compliant. They would also police each other. They respected their coach and would never want to embarrass him or themselves.
Sportsmanship was another value that you never compromised or dismissed to the sidelines. Being a good sportsman was synonymous with being a good athlete. As a young athlete, I could never imagine being a good athlete without being a good sport. It was a value profoundly understood and consistently stressed.
I remember playing football and my football coach saying that a good athlete had to be prepared to absorb the poor sportsmanship of others and not let that negative behavior disturb your game. I never forgot those words.
Every year the coaches would meet with our parents and clearly outline what they expected of them regarding their behavior. Specifically, the coaches addressed things like cursing, harassing the referees and blatantly displaying poor conduct while in the stands cheering their team on.
In recent months, we have all been appalled by the number of stories documenting the outrageous behavior of parents toward other parents, with game officials and in some circumstances with the coaches.
These stories speak of crude, vile and often violent behavior on the part of adults who should know better. Their lack of example is a scandal.
How can we expect twelve and thirteen year olds to play by the rules and not act violently or rudely, if their parents act in an unacceptable manner and model negative behavior?
The most tragic story to date is the story of two hockey dads getting into an altercation. Ultimately, one dad died because of that fight. Two families are forever destroyed and the children who witnessed that reprehensible event are forever damaged.
It is great to be outraged and after the fact rant and rave that it never should have happened. Why, in a civilized society, could something so violent and reprehensible occur in front of the eyes of our children in the first place?
We are a society that is out of control. Sports, which was once a scared cow and a positive American pastime, has been infected with the contagious disease of power and human exploitation.
We must revive athletics and once again return them to the important place they should hold in the growth and development of our young.
To do so effectively, we need to re-claim our partnership of working together. There should be a code of conduct that all parents and fans should be held to. When people don't comply, there should be a serious consequence that can be enforced.
Junior high and high school athletics are not the "Pros." Young people should play sports because they love the game. Not merely to win, but maybe to grow as a whole person. Violence, vulgarity and recklessness should not be tolerated in any sport from hockey to tennis.
Athletes, whether first string or third string, should be role models. Fighting and cursing happen in most competitive games, however they should not be condoned. Each time an athlete gets out of hand, he or she must be held accountable (even if it jeopardizes winning).
Ultimately, coaches, parents and league officials need to work more closely together to create a positive climate that will empower our athletes to be the best that they can be. All sports should be positive experiences that build teamwork, character and integrity in every athlete.