Sportsmanship an important lesson

June 19, 2013 

Being a youth sports coach for over 16 years, I have seen a lot of great things in my time. Things like watching youngsters get their first hit in coach pitch baseball or seeing a six year-old make it through an entire wrestling match without getting pinned. For volunteer coaches, watching kids make the most of their experience in youth athletics can be pure joy.

With that said, I have also witnessed some disheartening things as well. This was the case this past week at Legacy Park when I watched a coach of an 11-year old Recreation Baseball team from Lee’s Summit be ejected for comments made toward an umpire and another coach from the same team pull his players off the field before the end of the game right before having a nose-to-nose "discussion" with the umpires near the opposing team’s dugout.

While no one really knows the whole story, people must look at the perceptions that kids form when witnessing such behavior. Youth coaches need to understand that they leave a lasting impression on the athletes they coach. For many years, I have spoken about and written many pieces about the importance of sportsmanship in youth athletics and no matter the circumstances, coaches have an obligation to our kids to hold themselves to a higher level and model appropriate behavior. Sports prepare our youth for the real world and I often wonder how many people would still have a job if they acted like some of the coaches I have seen over the years when things don’t go their way.

We have some great sport organizations within our community and we should keep striving to provide the best environment for the players and parents in every sport. One of the things that can help deter this behavior is holding a clinic for coaches in each league (which many do) that teaches the proper way to address players, officials/umpires, and parents. A recent study from the Josephson Institute of Ethics revealed that over a third of high school male athletes surveyed felt that it’s more important to win than be considered a good sport (only 15 percent of girls felt this way). While I feel that this is a troubling statistic, I believe that youth coaches can change this culture of bad sportsmanship.

Two years ago, I emailed the league board of directors of the Lee’s Summit Baseball league to suggest such a class educating the many volunteers in the league. This would be great way to reinforce expectations of the coaches whose behavior would be display for every kid that is competing. Sadly, I am still waiting on a response from someone from the league (which is a common problem with the organization from what I have been told).

Poor sportsmanship will always be around and when competition heats up, it’s usually waiting to rear its ugly head. It’s my hope that the Lee’s Summit Youth Baseball Organization can be on the front end of it knowing that they have done everything they could do to show the parents of their league how they would like coaches to act during games.

Mike Gempeler is a Lee’s Summit resident and cartoonist for the Journal.

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