Monday, February 19, 2007

Sports Build Character Right?

An article from the LA Times, "Where Is Sport Steering Youth?" brought up some interesting points about high school and college athletics. While most people consider them as a means to build character, hard work, commitment, team-work, etc., the recent "less-than-perfect role models like Barry Bonds, violence in professional sports, showcasing of kids as individuals in a team game, and parents becoming much more aggressive" may counter those assumptions. A two-year study of high school athletes by the Josephson Institute found a higher rate of cheating in school among student-athletes than among their classmates (although, not much higher). The study also found a "growing acceptance of cheating to gain advantages in competition." A few other findings:
  • 25% of teen athletes considered rule-bending and aggressive behavior in competition acceptable. A substantial majority did not find it acceptable, though the percentage who considered that behavior acceptable had risen since a previous survey.
  • 48% of baseball players believe it proper for a coach to order his pitcher to throw at an opposing batter in retaliation.
  • 72% of football players acknowledged cheating

[The researcher] said the survey did not pinpoint "whether this enhanced propensity to cheat is due to values that put winning over honesty or a reflection of pressures to stay [academically] eligible or simply manage their time given the high demands of sports." One coach stated, in response to the study that the "warped values are not the fault of sports. . . . The failure rests on parents, teachers, coaches and role models."

So the numbers aren't staggeringly high and I do believe sports instill some wonderful qualities in the athletes, but the increasing numbers of those who find cheating (on/off the field) to be acceptable is worrisome. There are coaches who encourage it, either implicitly or explicitly, and you can find it in any professional sport. There are also those crazy parents who will push their kids to actions beyond anything I would consider sportsmanlike or sometimes even ethical. One thing I always loved about swimming was that it's nearly impossible to cheat. It's also a team sport made up of individual swims, so there can't be any hogging of the ball or "showboating." If you're good, the clock will say so, and then you have to get out of the pool immediately for the next heat of swimmers- not much time to bask in your own glory. I will say that the "academic counseling" from the athletic department at UT was definitely borderline ethical and it bothered me when I was there.

I do hope that my kids participate in sports because I believe they can do a lot of good. I also hope that JP and I stay on the sidelines where we belong- that we praise actions that are sportsmanlike and not just ones that win, and always remember that the glory/success go away, but the good memories and lessons learned stay with you forever.

Sigh... I suppose now I should get back to catching up in the worst class EVER (admin).

*The article may be password-protected, I think I did the free registration for the LA Times a while ago and the computer automatically keeps me logged in*

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