I love having my kids involved in sports. There is a great deal to be learned from the hard work and commitment required to be on team. Many of life’s important lessons can be found in competition. Pope John Paul II acknowledged this when he set up the Vatican Office of Sports. Unfortunately, there is an ugly side as well. The pursuit of victory can lead to bending the rules and turning a blind eye to inappropriate behavior. The problem seems to be more acute in high school team sports and other competitive activities than in independent club sports. Perhaps that is because the high school team experience, whether it is the football team or the chess team, is so intertwined with high school social dynamics. Consider the following hypothetical scenario:
A high school athlete shows up at a team bonding party. It is at a senior team member’s home and is supposedly chaperoned. However, the team captain goes out and obtains beer for everyone. The athlete leaves as soon as she sees there is alcohol. She is the only team member to leave the party. Now what do you do? If she says anything to the school administration, the team will suffer disciplinary consequences, but it will be obvious who alerted the authorities since only one team member left the party.
She opts to just keep herself out of trouble. However, she also chooses to avoid team parties where there is likely to be drinking. The other team members openly talk about their drinking exploits throughout the season and occasionally make hurtful comments to her because she doesn’t join in. The coach endorses the party together mentality. The coach even makes veiled comments about her own clubbing exploits. The coach categorizes the non-drinker as a non-team player and harasses her for not participating enough in team social events.
The coach berates and bullies the players and encourages them to do the same to each other and to their opponents. The coach refers to other high school girls as “trolls”. She describes trolls as “the girls who are fat, have bad hair, bad teeth, and even sagging boobs.” She tells her team members that these “trolls” have no right to be at their parties. She encourages her team to think of the opponents as these “trolls”. She encourages the team members to make demeaning comments about the appearance of opponents. The coach also uses sexual innuendos to motivate the girls to win: “Winning is like kissing a really hot guy!”
The athletic director doesn’t want to hear about any issues until after the season is over. Broaching them now could threaten the team’s run at the championship title. He is very reluctant to question a winning coach. He calls the coach’s bullying “feeble attempts at sarcasm and just quirkiness.” So the athlete who doesn’t want to participate in drinking and bullying has limited options. She can suck it up and endure the hostile environment or she can leave the team. The option with the least negative social consequences is to finish out the season and never return to the team. Just close that chapter and move on. A sense of justice cries out for these offenses to be exposed and corrected, but the attempt to do so would have dire social consequences. The school administration would most likely label the issues as an individual’s problem and not a systemic problem so the social costs would probably not result in significant correction of any problems.
If a parent offered you this scenario, what would you recommend?
CLARIFICATION: The soccer team I have written about before is my daughter's club team and is nothing like the situation above. Club soccer has been a joy and tremendous benefit to my daughter. The situation above is an athletic team from a local high school.