Winning and Sportsmanship

I attended the Beth Krom fundraiser yesterday but had to leave before Congresswopman Loretta Sanchez introduced Beth Krom because I was an assistant coach on my daughter’s 4th grade all-star basketball team.  I’m sure I was the only person there wearing blue jeans, basketball shoes and a coach’s shirt.

One of the great little secrets of Orange County is that it’s home to the headquarters of National Junior Basketball, a growing youth basketball program akin to Little League or Pony Baseball, and even AYSO, but it hasn’t expanded completely nationally yet even though there are chapters throughout California, Arizona, Hawaii, Nevada, Oregon and Missouri; there are 25,000 players in NJB youth leagues in their communities and it’s my sincere hope that NJB becomes the national model for youth basketball.  It’s a quality organization as is the Irvine Youth Basketball League my kids have played in.

Sunday afternoon, while we were waiting for our game at University High to start, we watched a girl’s division game between two teams I won’t name.  The final was 63-11; I’m guessing the girls were in 7th or 8th grade.  In checking the scores and results of other games, there were a few other very lopsided scores.  The girl’s on the winning team kept playing like it was a tied game and the girl’s on the losing side were certainly doing their best and didn’t give up.  But this lopsided outcome really bothered me. 

It is necessary to win by 52 points?

In our girl’s 4th grade division, there was a 63-12 game and a 46-16 game.  The boy’s 4th grade side had some lopsided victories too: One team crushed its opponents 63-13 and 70-18.  I could go on for other divisions and other games with similar results.  There were also a lot of close games too.

For the coaches of the teams that won by 30 points or more, honestly, what are you thinking?  It is really necessary to abjectedly humiliate another team?  What does this say about your sportsmanship?  Granted, when you get to the all-star level, every player is a good player.  Why not sit your best players?  There’s no shot clock.  Tell you’re kids they can only score it they have a layup.  Tell them they can’t shoot until the team has made 10 passes.  Or 20.  Better still, have every player shoot only three pointers (which is a low percentage shot). 

I’m certainly not suggesting teams and coaches not be competitive and not try to win, but once you’ve doubled the other team’s score, there’s a way to win with grace. And class.

Our team dropped all three of our games, the last one by only a basket.  We played hard every game and never quit.  At the pizza party at the end of the game, there were the smiles and giggles of 9 and 10 year old girls, many of who are good friends, happy to have been on a team together.  I’ll frankly remember the pizza party and our practices longer than the games I have on DVD but will likely never watch again.

  7 comments for “Winning and Sportsmanship

  1. Bladerunner
    March 25, 2009 at 2:18 am

    Sports, including NJB, like life, can produce some close contests and some blowouts. The only thing more disenheartening to a team losing by 52 points is watching the winning team intentionally play “down” or pass the ball without attacking the basket and hearing the coach say ” No one shoots until the ball is passed 20 times” etc. These are life lessons and sports provide an opening to those life lessons, including that there will be nice folks and real a holes, clean players and dirty players, decent coaches and coaches on the edge. keep in mind also that someimtes when the starters have opened up a wide lead, this is the only time some of the bench players get substantial playing time and its difficult to expect them not to give their very best to try and score even in those circumstances.

    Noting the above, some sports have mercy rules and I just dont recall if NJB does or not. Baseball does. Most coaches far ahead will generally take out their starters and stop pressing. In fact, my recollection from NJB (at least the recreational side as opposed to ALL Net) that once you opened up a certain point lead you were prohibited from engaging in a full court press. All net is more competitive and i suspect there is no mercy rule there.

    Every game can’t be close, and sports weren’t meant to be without heartache. But at the recreational level(as opposed to the club or all net level) if you’re put out by blowouts, go to the meetings and argue for a mercy rule or some other measure to avoid these results.

  2. Fun Bobby
    March 25, 2009 at 11:35 am

    Spoken like a true liberal bleeding-heart. Next thing you know he’ll ask for everyone to perform down to the lowest common level so people don’t feel bad about driving “not quite as nice a car” or living in “not quite as nice a home”. Heaven forbid people do their best to excel. That would be downright Republican!!!

  3. Dan Chmielewski
    March 25, 2009 at 2:32 pm

    As someone who’s been on both sides of the ball as a coach, when I’ve been up 20 points or more, I make sure the best player is out and told my kids to shoot nothing but three-pointers (its a low percentage shot). I also encourage them to feed (insert name of worst two players on the court) so they can score.

    There are “mercy” rules in NJB but the game isn’t shortened.

    Showing disclipine of moving the ball around to eat the clock in a game situation is not wasted time Bladerunner. A team might actually have to do that to win a close game.

    Bobby — I love to win as much as the next person, but I don’t have to humiliate someone and I would prefer the kids I coach to learn how to win with class and lose with grace. I have never asked a kid who’s played for me to do anything but their best, so your post is misguided at best.

  4. Chris Emami
    March 26, 2009 at 2:08 am


    Being a coach who has been on both sides of lopsided basketball scores I can understand where you are coming from. I have been accused by many of running up the score in games but it is not with the intent of humiliating the other team. I believe that momentum is a key quantity especially at the high school level where I coach. When winning by 20 or more I feel that I have a responsibility to let my substitutes play with high intensity because they have earned the right to play as hard as everybody else on the team.

    I also teach my kids though to help an opponent up if she is down. To never criticize the referees. This is along with other factors that have to do with sportsmanship.

    I will be honest with you I have had my share of success. Winning a CIF championship this year at a Private High School in Santa Ana that shall go unnamed. I also went 70-10 while the head JV women’s coach at Esperanza. I honestly do not even remember the lopsided wins, but unfortunately can remember all 10 losses in excruciating detail.

  5. March 26, 2009 at 4:56 pm

    Chris —
    at a High School level, you have a point. We’re talking about 9 and 10 yearold kids. And even if the 63-11 game was an 8th grade contest, those are 13 year olds. Just how small of an appendage do you have to have to win by that much?

    Yeah, so you went to Mater Dei. My high school was a top ten in New York my senior year and we lost to the eventual NYS champs by 4 points at their place. 102-98 with no three point shot.

    Like I tell that parents of every team I coach; my teams won in high school so I have no unresolved winning fantasties to work out with the teams I coach. To be honest, it’s all about having fun, becoming a better player and the treat at the end of the game.

  6. March 26, 2009 at 6:10 pm


    I think I took your post as a generic running up the score is bad. I agree that with kids of that age level many coaches take it way more seriously than they should. It really is supposed to be about the children and many coaches most of whom have unresolved issues feel that beating another 5th grade team by 80 points makes them somehow more important.

    For the record I did not attend the private school in Santa Ana which you named (I am not allowed to say the name of the school or I will get a phone call from a member of the staff). I actually attended Canyon High School in Anaheim Hills who was beaten many times in one sided fashion by the private school of which you speak.

  7. March 26, 2009 at 7:31 pm

    Chris — I’m 1-2 against Anaheim Hills in All-Stars. I should be 3-0, but we played them twice in 2006 and I was missing a player for both games and had to give them 4 points to start the game. We lost by 3 both times.

    Mater Dei was an easy mistake. But we haveone notable difference. I remember the wins better than the losses.

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