A few weeks ago I had a conversation with a local basketball coach. We shared our love for the game and for sports. He indicated how frustrated he was in dealing with parents. At the beginning of every season he has a team meeting. He clearly lays out his philosophy of the game, his style of coaching and his expectations of the parents of his athletes.
Boldly, he tells parents if all they are interested in is winning, they should withdraw their son or daughter immediately. He further explains that there is more to the game than playing.
After his address to the parents, he gives a very strong presentation to his athletes. As their coach, he makes it clear that he wants them to have fun and enjoy the season, but also wants to see them grow in character and dignity. Athletic excellence is not his primary objective.
Traditionally sports are supposed to build character and integrity, as well as teamwork. Most adults expect athletes, especially high school students, to be role models.
Unfortunately, many sports have developed a double-edged sword. In theory, they speak of discipline, hard work and teamwork. However, in reality some athletes don't play by the rules. They are excellent in competition, but don't always model positive behavior. Sometimes there is no accountability. Athletes are given concessions that other students would never be given.
Students, no matter where they stand in the landscape of their school, need to be held accountable. It should not matter if you are the captain of the football team or a "fringe" kid barely holding on. If a school rule is broken, the consequences for non-compliance should be equally enforced.
In the last few months, a growing number of parents have expressed alarm about the social behavior of teenagers being exploited by the media. We need to remember that the students involved in this unacceptable behavior are a very small percentage of the student body. What is more troubling is the assertion that a growing number of high school students are immoral. I will concede that their behavior is immoral by object standards. However, being immoral means you know right from wrong and you do wrong anyway. I don't believe a growing numbers of teenagers whose actions are deemed immoral are immoral. I believe they are amoral.
Believe it or not, I think a growing number of basically good kids have missed a few lessons on moral development. They live in a world that continually contradicts the basic moral principles that guide most of our lives.
We talk about respect, responsibility and accountability. If those basic values are continuously contradicted and/or exploited when you are young and impressionable, it is hard to find the middle ground. It is especially difficult when the people you look up to don't consistently embrace those basic values.
Our schools have become shackled in the area of values clarification. In some communities, you cannot even entertain a conversation about values and positive living without causing a furor. We are not talking about preaching or proselytizing. Rather, we are talking about basic human values that transcend religion and ethnic differences. These values are the bedrock of positive decision-making.
Our schools should not be raising our children, but should be reinforcing those basic values and attitudes that strengthen positive decision-making and basic respect for people and our society.
If the past few weeks have taught us anything, hopefully many of us who are parents are going to revive conversations with our children around those difficult issues we may have avoided in the past. We need to ask about hazing, parties and social behaviors that take place without adult supervision. As parents, we should not be afraid to challenge our kids to embrace a higher standard.
Those of us who have children who participate in sports need to be aware of all that goes on with sports, both the formal competitive activities as well as the social dynamics. If there is a code of conduct for athletes in your school, dust it off and review it with your son or daughter. Be sure they understand the scope of what the code is speaking to. The hard part as a parent is that you need to be willing to call your athlete to task. There can be no short cuts. If your athlete signs on to embrace the code, it should be the whole code. It is not a pick and choose code.
In English, that means if there are provisions that prohibit smoking, drug use and alcohol consumption, then those provisions have to be implemented. This should not be just during the week, but also on the weekends after the big victory games.
We cannot play both sides at the same time. If our athletes agree to sign a code of conduct, then they must be held accountable with no exceptions. Parents need to work in concert with coaches. They cannot cover for their children, even if it jeopardizes their playing time and the team's success. If one is an honest team player, he or she should consider all of these factors as he or she makes his or her social choices.
Coaches must not turn a blind eye or a deaf ear regarding their athletes' social behaviors. Teenagers are teenagers. If they can cut corners, they will. If the coach is lax about the code of conduct, then his or her players will also be lax.
Athletic competition is an excellent arena for building character, integrity, honesty and leadership. It is also the landscape on which lifetime friendships are born, nurtured and cultivated.
We must work together to put competitive athletics back on a playing field of dignity and grace.