Class, honor, and life lessons

Tonight I had the opportunity to watch a potentially bad situation with a terrible mismatch handled with class and honor on both sides. To me it is the best of what sports is supposed to teach our young people, but often doesn’t.

The situation was this. Our high school team was playing a conference game against a team from what is probably the most disadvantaged school in the conference. It is well known that this school struggles each year just to field a team, much less one with skills. You didn’t see any $300 bats in the hands of their hitters, and not a single parent was in the stands on their side that I could see.

It appeared tonight that several of the players on this varsity team were in their first year of playing fastpitch softball. The pitcher looked to be a volunteer who probably rolled more balls in than she threw strikes. It is the same year after year. There is no summer ball or early training for the players on this team. Their coaches generally do all they can do to teach basics most coaches expect to be learned by 10U.

Prior to the game, there was an agreement that our side’s offensive inning would end after five runs scored unless there were three outs made first. It was a good thing, because three outs were never made before five runs, and at least a couple of times there were zero outs when the teams switched it up. Our coach instructed his team not to steal a base under any circumstance — again a good thing given that the softball gods tend to punish coaches who run on weak teams by having a key player turn or break an ankle.  He also started his bench players, including a pitcher who has only seen limited action. A couple of starters never even saw the field.

Runners advanced only on walks or hits, and even then the baserunning was purposely not very aggressive. I know there are those who will say that you should never let up, you want your runners to always think aggressively, etc. But I disagree with them. This coach did the right thing in restricting it. He had to play the game because it’s conference, but he knew he didn’t have to be a jerk about it. The final score was still lopsided, but the players on the losing side were treated with dignity and respect for their situation. The umpires, too, were helpful in explaining to the girls why certain calls were being made so they could learn a little more about the game.

But that was only part one of the lesson. Part two was in the conduct of the players and coaches from the visiting team. They never once got down on themselves or each other. They seemed to have fun, and looked like they were grateful just to have the opportunity to play this great game, take a couple of at bats, and wear the uniform of their school. When the game was over they were all smiles, and during the concluding high fives between the two teams a couple of them got in line a second time just for fun.

This is a team that is very likely going to go 0 for the season. But that’s not what matters to them. They are part of a team, something larger than themselves, and for a few innings whatever other life challenges they have don’t matter. They’re there to play ball.

So many of us get caught up in the wins and losses. So many players and coaches like to use games like this to pad their stats or serve some other selfish purpose. Today was a reminder that what Grantland Rice said is really true:
 
          “For when the One Great Scorer comes

To write against your name,
He marks – not that you won or lost –
But how you played the Game.”

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About Ken Krause

Ken Krause has been coaching girls fastpitch softball for nearly 20 years. Some may know him as a contributing columnist to Softball Magazine, where he writes Krause's Korner -- a regular column sponsored by Louisville Slugger. Ken is also the Administrator of the Discuss Fastpitch Forum, the most popular fastpitch discussion forum on the Internet. He is currently a Three Star Master Coach with the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA), and is certified by both the Amateur Softball Association (ASA) and American Sports Education Program (ASEP). Ken is a private instructor specializing in pitchers, hitters, and catchers. He teaches at North Shore Baseball Academy in Libertyville, IL and Pro-Player Consultants in McHenry, IL.

Posted on April 8, 2008, in General Thoughts. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. Great story. I have seen similar situations where strong teams have shown mercy on weak teams by purposely leaving bases early. While some coaches feel this is showing up the weaker teams, I believe that it is usually done in the same spirit as you might spot your child 18 in a game of 21.

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  2. Great analogy, Greg. If it’s done quietly and with kindness I think it’s received in the spirit intended. I’ve used the leaving early thing as well and had a coach thank me for doing it. Some people like to run up the score. Me, I believe what goes around comes around.

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