We have read a number of statistics that talk about the drop-out rate of umpires and referees. In many youth leagues covering a wide variety of sports it is not uncommon for there to be only about one third of those who begin continuing into a third season. Why? Some of it is financial – they just don’t make very much money, but by far the reason is what we would all expect: the way they are treated by players and fans. Too many kids think it’s acceptable to trash talk an official, and too many parents and zealous fans are abusive from the safety of the crowd. One of Cal Ripken’s beginning points is that youth sports are supposed to be fun. That’s why we play games – for fun. So, the important question to ask is “are we having fun?” Are we making the games our kids play, and the games we play fun for everyone? Sure, we are competitive; sure, we want to win; but something is more important than winning and losing. It’s good to remember Grantland Rice: “When the one Great Scorer comes to mark by your name, he marks not that you won nor lost, but how you played the game.”
Phil Mickelson has announced that he’ll skip the U.S. Open in order to attend his daughter’s high school graduation. Golfers know that the Open is the only major championship that Phil hasn’t won (he’s finished second six times), and so skipping this tournament is not like any other week. But his daughter’s graduation is more important – and that’s the lesson! It’s “news” that he’ll skip the Open in favor of his family and his love for his daughter. There are always things more important than our work, more important than making money or being a success – and those things always have to do with people. People are the most important “things” in life. We all talk about our values and talk about the things that matter most – but talk is only words until we live them. Have you ever faced a situation where people expected you to act in one way, but you chose another? Where do you see people saying one thing, but often doing something else? The Code says, “I will place team goals ahead of personal goals.” The family is a “team,” so Phil is living by the Code and “Winning More Than The Game!”
This is the time of year for graduations – we graduate from one grade to the next, or from one school to the next. Whenever we graduate we have reason to celebrate, because we have achieved a significant milestone. It may be that we have not been as successful as we would have liked, but the fact is that we have graduated, and for that we should celebrate. What are the things that you are most proud of? When you review the Code, where have you truly excelled? Is it in that first section – about individual achievement? Or, is it in that second section about what kind of friend and teammate you’ve been to others? Or, is it in that third section about the contribution you have made to your school and/or community? Think about it! Then, in the coming days, it’ll be time to set goals for the next year or years of our life. What area do you think needs the most attention for you? Is there a particular tenet or section that you want to work on? What’s the next step for you?
On the first playoff hole Jason Day missed a four foot putt to lose the Byron Nelson PGA tournament on Sunday before a national television audience. It was one of those moments that we can all identify with – missing an easy putt, a foul shot or layup in basketball, an easy shot in tennis, dropping a pass that came right to us, and so on. All sports provide those moments when we fail. The difficulty is that we fail not because the opponent was too good for us, but because we defeated ourselves. Can you remember such a time? What are other memorable moments that you can recall that happened to others? Jason Day said that he was disappointed but tried to put some perspective on it: “it isn’t the first time I’ve lost and it won’t be the last.” The Code holds us all to a high standard – that we will do our best, and that we will conduct ourselves with honor. In defeat we are all tested, and in defeat we have the opportunity to learn and grow, just as we do in victory. How do you handle both victory and defeat? What are the ways you can grow?
Maria Sharapova was suspended from tennis for a year (reduced from two years) for a drug violation. Having served her time, she recently returned to tournament play and was given wild card entry into several tournaments, but the French Federation decided not to give her a wild card for the French Open – she will have to earn her way back up through the rankings. The National Football league has been the subject of criticism for drafting players either awaiting trial or convicted of violence against women – while effectively banning Colin Kaepernick for his actions. We know the Code says that we will play by the “spirit and the letter of the rules” and that we will be a “positive influence” on others, and that when we fail we will “apologize and take appropriate actions.” But where do you stand on the age old question of the tension between justice and mercy? In other words, when should a player be given a second chance? Is there a difference between breaking a league or team rule and breaking the law? What are the responsibilities of the league? Should team members be vocal in their opinions? Are you clear about your team and league rules and expectations?
The miracle wasn’t that Jim Abbott had a ten year major league career, or that he threw a no-hitter for the Yankees in 1993. The miracle was that he had no right hand. His career inspired Kevin Ewing, a high school senior and also a pitcher with no right hand. Ewing watched hours of film to see how Abbott could pitch with his left hand, switch the glove immediately to that hand, field a ball and then after shifting the glove back to his right arm, throw out a runner at first. Those of us who watched it, never could see it happen – it happened so fast. Kevin Ewing knew if Jim Abbott could do it, he could do it. All it took was practice, perseverance and determination. Kevin is finishing his high school career and preparing to pitch next year for a small college, Johnson University, as his life goes on. What does the Code say about this? “I will develop my skills to the best of my ability…” How many of us actually do that? How many of us have the determination and perseverance of a Jim Abbott or Kevin Ewing to work to overcome that part of our game that is weakest? Can you draw any inspiration from these two? What skill will you work on next?
A few days ago there was a story about a family who was sitting behind Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Mohamed Sanu on a plane flight. Before landing, the mother gave him a note which read: “Hi! You don’t know us but we wanted to thank you. Our son sat behind you on this flight and watched you. He saw you studying your plays, watched you make healthy choices with your food and snacks, food and drink. He watched how polite you were to everyone. He is only 10 but he just made an elite hockey team and we are on our way to training in CT. You are an inspiration to children and for that you should be proud! Thank you and best of luck! The family that sat behind you. :)”
It’s important to remember that we are all role models – because for good or ill people see the things we do, and hear the things we say. It’s not just when we think people are watching, it’s all the time! What are the times you can remember when someone did something that you admired? What are the times when someone did something you did not admire? Ask these questions of your team, or of some of your friends. Does anything surprise you in the answers?
Remember the preamble to the Code for Living: “Because I am a role model with the opportunity and the responsibility to make a difference in the lives of others, I commit to this Code…”
Aaron Hernandez is a tragic figure. He committed suicide in prison last week while serving a life term for murder. From the time he was 17 years old, he had had a series of serious brushes with the law. The question that should be haunting all of his teammates, coaches and friends from his first days at the University of Florida, to his last days with the New England Patriots is: what could or should I have done? Why was this incredibly gifted athlete, so successful in football, not reached by someone who could lead him to live a good and positive life? Surely they knew of his violent tendencies, of the demons at work within him, and yet none of them was able to help him find the right path to life. What does the Code have to say about this? It says, “I will be a positive influence on the other relationships on the team.” It is always easier not to get involved; it is difficult to intervene when your efforts may meet anger or be rejected. But it is our responsibility to act, to do what we can to help those we know and care about. Is there a person in your school that needs a friend? Is there someone you know who is on the wrong road? Are there others you can get to join with you?
We have all seen the video of the passenger who was dragged off the United airlines flight, suffering a concussion and broken teeth in the process. And we all have our opinions about the mistakes that were made by United – beginning with the CEO who almost immediately said that the appropriate procedures were followed. Many simply wondered why United didn’t just keep offering more and more money until someone did volunteer to get off the plane. When something goes wrong, the natural tendency is to make excuses, to try to explain why it is not our fault that it happened, and about how we did everything we could to get the right result. And that’s what the United CEO tried to do. What does the Code say about this? The preamble to the Code says, “I will take responsibility and appropriate actions when I fail…” Today the CEO has finally taken full responsibility, after fumbling for days. The moment he saw the video, he should have immediately said something like, “What I have seen is very upsetting, I am terribly sorry that it happened, I want to learn how and why it happened, but in the meanwhile, I am responsible for United airlines and I want the public to know that this is very upsetting to us at United.” In saying something like this, the public would have seen a human response, the taking of responsibility, and appropriate actions would have followed in due course. Have you ever been in a situation where you tried to avoid responsibility? Have you ever realized that you were wrong about something and admitted it, and taken responsibility? How did you feel when that happened? What have you learned from this incident?
It was a great display of sportsmanship: Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia each doing everything possible to win the Masters golf tournament last Sunday, but at the same time each cheering on the other as they both made many great shots. In the end, when Justin realized that he was in all probability going to lose, he stood back so that Sergio could walk up the 18th fairway onto the green enjoying the full adulation and appreciation of the crowd. It was a great lesson for everyone: sports is at its best when we do our best, when we test ourselves against a worthy opponent, and when we know that there is no shame or dishonor in being beaten by a worthy opponent. That they could each actually root for the other while doing everything possible to defeat him was a lesson for us all.
Sports is always about “Winning More Than The Game!”