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Winning By Any Means Necessary

I like to win. It is a great feeling to know that some referee or judge has determined that you are the best of the bunch. Perhaps it was because your team got the highest score. Or maybe you performed the best routine or did the hardest tricks. In fighting it is an even bigger ego boost because in order to win you have to usually beat up the other guy. (I made him tap! I am the biggest badass at this tournament!) Who doesn't like the feeling of a medal being hung around their neck, or the thrill of attempting to commute home with a six foot plastic trophy. (How many Karate Kid jokes can you endure in one hour long subway ride? How many times will your car get honked at for the shiny gold kicking guy that is sticking out of the sun roof?)

I am all for competition, provided it does not consume your entire training. We bring our young karate students to about two tournaments a year. It is a lot of buildup, weeks of practice and excitement. In addition to perfecting punches, kicks and katas, we try to instill the importance of good sportsmanship. That winning and losing are not as important as the fact that they had the courage to put themselves out there. That all that matters is that they do their best.

Still, what kid likes to lose?

Some karate schools attend a competition every weekend. We don't. The problem with frequent competition is it is hard to teach the kids anything else. You can talk about self discipline, respect, body control, strength, self defense, and a million other things but if there is a tournament coming up all they want to talk about is trophies.

Ideally you want your students to win first place but still be good kids. Medals but no injuries. Losers but no broken hearts. In other words there is a right way to train for competition.

There is also a wrong way.

Recently it has become public that a defensive coordinator from the New Orleans Saints was offering "bounties" to players who injured the opposing team. From an article on, "The NFL has said former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams ran an improper pay-for-performance pool, which offered bonuses for big plays as well as big hits that forced opposing players from games or left them needing help to leave the field." In other words, giving monetary incentives for hurting other football players, for causing possibly career ending injuries to people who were just playing a game like you. 

To say I am disgusted is a gross understatement. I am appalled! When did this become acceptable behavior from a coach? When did it go from playing a football game on Sundays to committing unforgivable assault on another human being? When did it become ok to win by any means necessary?

Of course there is an investigation. There will be suspensions and fines. But I am sure this is not the only team where players are encouraged to take opponents out in whatever way they can. Even worse there are plenty of football fans out there who think this behavior is not only acceptable but commendable. And why? Because it will help their team get the almighty trophy. And that is all that matters. 

I often talk to parents about the other sports their kids are involved in. Many of them do soccer on weekends. Some of them play on Little League teams. Our highest ranking girl also plays basketball. Her mother once explained the games to me with a frustrated roll of the eyes. "It is a mess. They never practice together, they just meet on Saturdays for games." Really? How do they learn how to actually play basketball? "They don't." Another mom described her son's Saturday soccer class in a similar way. "It is just a bunch of 7 year olds running back and forth across the field. It is exhausting to watch."  But do they do any drills? Practice shooting at the goal? "Sometimes they dribble the ball around for a few minutes before the game."

Matthew describes his childhood Little League experiences as basically the same. They had a game every weekend. Once in a blue moon there was a practice session. Mostly the kids learned how to play baseball somewhere else, with their dads mostly. The kids who were naturally fast and strong did well. The others were stuck in the outfield somewhere picking clovers out of the grass.

Is this the kind of sports education our children are getting nowadays? Winning and losing games on weekends. And parents pay money for this? Whatever happened to learning skills? Or learning to work together as a team? I am no expert but I am pretty sure both basketball and soccer involve something called "passing the ball". Wouldn't it help if you actually practiced this with your teammates?

Not all kids sports teams are like this. There is also the "traveling" team that requires a 5 day a week commitment. They practice plenty. I know because these are the kids who can only attend karate once every two weeks because they are "soccer players." At least they are learning something. I asked one of these kids recently about their class. "It is great", he exclaimed. "We won a really big trophy!"

Kids will be kids. But we owe them more than this. In this society of increased childhood obesity and diabetes, where some kids drink soda instead of water and have never even tasted broccoli , we should at least teach them real sports. Show them skills they can practice and techniques they can improve at. Remind them that not only is there "no I in team" but that a team is more than a group of kids thrown together on weekends for the purpose of winning a game that no one actually knows how to play.

And our professional teams, the ones our children are dreaming about while tossing the football in their backyards, owe our kids a better message than win at all costs. I am not impressed with your giant trophy. Try being a decent human being instead. That is what really makes a champion.


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