Competition Is Good For Kids, So Let ‘Em Play To Win

I played a lot of sports when I was a kid, mainly at the Boys Club — basketball, baseball, football, and one year, even soccer, although I’m not proud of that. I was particularly terrible at football. I even broke my leg playing when I was 7 (It went all the way around in a circle — I kid you not). I also didn’t jump very high or run very fast, but I was a smart player and had an early growth spurt which gave me an advantage over the kids my age until I was 12-13. I was also pretty good at baseball, although I never had the burning desire I would have needed to really make something of the talent that I did have.

What I did have, however, was a competitive spirit. I played to win and there were a few moments that stood out for me.

Once I remember being on an All-Star team when I was 12 and there was a girl on the other team. I was a back-up and our starting center was playing like he was afraid to hurt her or something. That was problematic because she was lighting him up. They stuck another guy on her and it was the same thing. Oh, she’s a girl — can’t go after her! So, in desperation, the coach turned to the 12th guy on the bench and I started knocking the hell out of her. She went in for the rebound and she got boxed out. She went up for a shot and I hard fouled her. The other guys on the bench cheered and I loved it. It wasn’t personal. My thinking was that we were competing in the same game, so I wasn’t going to treat her any differently than anyone else. I don’t remember who won or who lost, but I remember going after her when no one else would.

There was another game that stuck out for me. It was the 4th quarter and we were up by maybe 14 points with roughly five minutes to go. The other team then brought in a kid who was…I was a kid, so I didn’t know what his deal was specifically, but let’s just say he was “specially abled.” And you’ve seen how this goes, right? They pass the ball to the kid in this situation, the other team backs off, and he gets to score his touchdown / take a wide open shot / whatever. Well, that happened, — and he drained it. Then it happened again — and he drained it. Then it happened again — and he drained it. Meanwhile, no one wants to guard him, there’s like 3 minutes left in the game, and it occurs to me that we could lose the game if this keeps up. So, the next time they passed him the ball, he went up for the shot and I ran over and blocked his shot — and yeah, we did win the game.

Another time, I was the best player on our team and we had a game coming up, but I was sick as a dog. I was in TERRIBLE shape. But, I didn’t want to let my team down. So, I went out and played the whole game. The good news was that we won. The bad news was that in the middle of the night, I started to have trouble breathing. My father took me to a doctor and it turns out I had played an entire game with pneumonia, my lungs were filling up with fluid, and the doctor told us it could have been potentially life threatening if it had gone on too much longer.

These are the sort of little moments I remember about childhood sports. Trophies, all-star teams, fistfights, coaches’ advice, insults and compliments. I’ve been on teams that were beaten by 60-70 points and I’ve been on teams that beat the other side that badly. I know what it’s like to be on both sides of a slaughter rule, where the game has been called off because my team was getting creamed or creaming somebody. Honestly, the only thing I really remember about games like that was not wanting to stop playing before I got another time at bat. Whether we were winning or losing, I wanted to be on the field.

Playing competitive sports was very good for me. It taught me teamwork, competition, and helped instill in me a desire to improve myself.

I bring all of that up so you’ll know where I’m coming from when I talk about this story,

It’s been called unsportsmanlike. It’s been called ugly. The question now is whether Christian Heritage (Utah) High, which routed West Ridge (Utah) Academy, 108-3, in a girls basketball game last week, actually did anything wrong by blowing out an overwhelmed opponent.

The stunning scoreline — from a varsity game in which Christian Heritage reportedly never used a full-court press — nearly defies belief. As reported in the Deseret News and Salt Lake Tribune, Christian Heritage scored 28 points per quarter for the first three periods and 24 in the fourth, providing a consistent average of nearly two baskets per minute across the entire game. The Crusaders shut out West Ridge (pictured above running on to the court for the team’s game following the rout) for the first three quarters, and Christian Heritage starter Josi Rydin even racked up a unique triple-double, with exactly 10 points, 10 rebounds and 10 steals.

…Yet while Christian Heritage is a clear and obvious target for criticism, Crusaders coach Rob McGill has argued that he had little choice. According to ABC 4 News out of Salt Lake City, the program had just nine players available for both the varsity and junior varsity games against West Ridge, leaving the coach with little option when considering whether to pull out his starters early in the game.

…While Christian Heritage has already apologized for the lopsided scoreline and administrators at West Ridge have said the school harbors no ill will and has moved on from the incident, there are still lingering concerns about what could happen when the teams play again. The two are scheduled to play Feb. 3 for the second half of the schools’ home-and-home league meetings.
Much of that concern comes from McGill’s personal philosophy. The coach said he refuses to force his players to back down just because they have all but assured a victory, citing a desire to promote values that he feels are limited by contemporary culture.

“Too many people in the world right now allow the youth to not be as good as they can be, allow them to be lazy,” said McGill. “Here, I’m giving them an opportunity to live up to the best of their abilities and be proud of what they’re able to accomplish. If that’s what I’m being blamed for, then OK, I accept it.”

That “commitment to excellence” comes at a cost. In this case, it was the ego of teenage girls that was affected by the effective implementation of McGill’s personal philosophy. Given that West Ridge is a school for at-risk youth, those egos in question may be even more fragile than most.

Instead of wondering whether Christian Heritage won by too much, maybe people should be asking why West Ridge Academy was so terrible? That seems like a more pertinent question, especially since Christian Heritage apparently didn’t run up the score Madden style or anything.

Also, I’m sorry, but whining about the poor bruised “egos” of the girls at West Ridge is laughable. “Oh, we lost a basketball game, let’s start a life of crime” — give me a break. Once, when I was in high school, I played in a lunchtime basketball game with a freaking prodigy who was recruited by NC State. He was 6′ 5″, ran like a gazelle, and had a 40 inch plus vertical. The guy was so dominant that he blocked one of my shots with his elbow. Did I get upset and become a dirty hippie because that was incredibly embarrassing? No. That’s ridiculous.

Let me tell you something else: Getting a 108-3 beating in a basketball game isn’t so bad. Know why? Because life is going to hand out 108-3 beatings sometimes. You’re going to get sick and end up in the hospital. You’re going to love somebody dearly who doesn’t feel the same way and she’s going to dump you. You’re going to lose a job and not know how to pay your bills. Someone you love is going to die. Getting your behind handed to you in a basketball game 108-3 helps prepare you for that because it seems so awful, so terrible, such a big deal — but you survive and life goes on. Sports, including 108-3 losses, help prepare you for the rest of your life. It’s good for kids to learn those lessons and we shouldn’t be trying to shield them based on the dodgy theory that their fragile egos can’t handle getting creamed in a game.

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