Every high school coach uses various methods to build “team spirit.” Now, that sought after team spirit could be the sense of each player being responsible for his/her teammates; for each player knowing that their effort and action is a reflection of their team and school and community; and that team spirit would bond the individuals into a cohesive unit. There are more reasons for building a sense of spirit, but these are enough for my argument. As a high school coach I would use various methods, as other coaches did and do, to build team spirit: wind sprints, crunches, water breaks- I used a variety of means to inspire the runners and wrestlers I coached; to get them to compress as a unit because that would  lead them to success whether they won as a team or not; they would benefit from being part of something larger than themselves. If one of these athletes transgressed during practice by breaking a rule, such as using inappropriate language, I would stop practice and have all of them do some punishment such as crunches. And then when one of them  did something extraordinarily well, everyone would get a water break.

A recent decision to remove a team from the playoffs caused me to remember my days of coaching and how I rewarded/punished my teams to build that elusive team spirit.

            Since this is a universal objective for all high school coaches, I will be vague because what happened could  have occurred in any high school sport in any state. However, it is important to know that a player was suspended from a game for committing a personal foul and for unsportsmanlike conduct. Before play can resume, the offending player rushes the unsuspecting official and body blocks him to the ground. The player is corralled by a teammate and a coach, and after some time play resumes with the offending player’s  team winning the contest. However, the following week the winning team is banned from the playoffs because of the actions of its team member.

            For a player to commit a personal foul and unsportsmanlike conduct is awful. He was removed from the game and his team penalized yards. The remainder of the game was played. Players left believing they were in the playoffs and that their teammate would likely face consequences for his act. But the following week someone decided that the entire team should be punished some more. No playoffs!

            In my view this is one more example of adults sending the wrong lesson to our high school students. The calls were made by the officials during the game and appropriate punishments were issued. Perhaps more would follow for the offending player by his parents, school, and coaches. I think that all the players realized how violent and egregious their teammate’s act was. In fact, one teammate  was the first person to rush onto the field to pull him away from the prone official. However, the team was banned.

            While I am not involved and facing the pressures that are all too often present in high school athletics, I regret that the team was disqualified because of one person’s act. That is a lesson better taught in the confines of the practices. To make such a decision after all that had transpired sends the message that power rules and that the power will be used against any who appear to be a threat to the status quo.

            Games played while players don’t attend school in person. Games played and offending players penalized. Games played, but then over-ruled by someone who has the power to do  the wrong thing. What lessons, such as ones of mixed messages,  we teach our young.

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