Prospect Communication's Youth Sports Blog - "Taking You Beyond the Game!", features our own articles and commentaries that deal specifically with youth sports. Browse the site to read any articles that may be of interest to your sports organization. The articles are copyrighted to the authors (Michael Langlois & Mary-Louise Langlois) and they may not be reproduced without permission. To inquire about licensing the right to reproduce any of the site's content please contact us at inquiries@prospectcommunications.com

Prospect has a unique and specialized approach to communications skills and issues management geared towards those involved with youth and minor sports. Michael and Mary-Louise's work in this area is ideal for parents and coaches who want to make the most of children's involvement in sports.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

'No celebration' rule costs high school team a championship- a life lesson or an absurd regulation?

We read with interest this week about how a high school football team in the state of Massachusetts lost a championship game because of a rule that disallows “celebrations”.

Now, many sports fans likely believe that excessive celebrations in sport have become somewhat tiresome at the professional level.  Simple plays lead to fist-pumping and a range of theatrics that, depending on your point of view, are either entertaining, a part of freedom of expression, or ridiculous and overdone.

And yes, it is clear that how professionals behave impacts how impressionable younger athletes/people sometimes respond, whether on Club teams or at the high school level, for example.

This particular situation in Massachusetts occurred in a state championship game—an event that all those involved with will remember for the rest of their lives.  One team scored a touchdown in the final moments of the game, a touchdown that would have given them the victory and the state championship (see original story with video clip here).

But the league rule is “no celebration”.  Because the player scoring the touchdown put his hand up well in advance of the goal line, that evidently met the criteria for a “rule infraction”.  There wasn’t just (as there is at higher levels of play) a penalty on the point after attempt or the ensuing kick off—the actual touchdown was nullified, as though the play had never happened.

It’s difficult to comprehend the thinking here.  While we write regularly and passionately here about sportsmanship and examples of such, this, on the surface, appears to be a case where a well-intentioned “rule”—one intended to send a message and alter over-zealous and unsportsmanlike behavior—sends a troubling message.

You will note in reading the explanation from the “league”, that it says, essentially, the young people affected will have this sort of thing happen in life.  That is, that those in charge will sometimes made decisions that they don’t agree with or feel is fair in life and they will have to learn to deal with decisions that go against them.

While that is inarguably true on the one hand, it covers up a different type of  injustice.  The other “reality” is that the play (the touchdown) was a fair play.  There was no deceit, no cheating, no “holding” or other true football foul on the field of play.

Because a young person showed joy and exuberance, they were penalized.  Not just penalized a few yards on the field of play, but a state championship honor that they had clearly, rightly, earned.

Those around at the time all remember Joe Namath walking off the field after Super Bowl III, holding up a single finger to show fans his New York Jets were "number-one". He was bragging, feeling proud.  It was a natural, spontaneous show of emotion.

It was human.

Did he "show up the opposition"? Not really.

When teams celebrate championships they get excited.  It reflects hours, sometimes years, of dedication and tireless effort to improve skills and build team harmony, all good things.  A show of extreme joy is surely understandable and should not be seen as in some way showing a lack of respect for the team you competed against.

When baseball players at the major league level hit a home run to win a big game in the 9th inning, the player circling the bases is ecstatic and shows their emotion as the other team is walking of the field.  Their teammates rush out to the field of play to celebrate.  Again, it's natural.

Being happy is not poor sportsmanship.

Now, if this team had acted inn an un-sportsmanlike fashion throughout the game and the on-field officials had warned them and they had ignored warnings, and then the refs felt they had no chance but to make an "extreme" call on a subjective ruling, this would be a bit easier to understand.

But if that was not the case (and there are no reports to suggest that it was) are we—and more especially those who worked so hard to achieve that success— supposed to believe that life is about technicalities?  That the winning play, legal as it was, never actually happened?

And how will the new “state champions” feel?  They won not on the field of play, but essentially because of a “fair play” rule that, while valid on the surface, does not pass the real life test of competition here.  They will always remember being “champions”—not because they earned it, though they no doubt worked hard to get as far as they did—but because a bunch of adults were trying to impose a standard of behavior that they probably couldn’t meet themselves when they were the same age.

But it’s OK to raise the bar for someone else, apparently.

Yes, sportsmanship is tremendously important. It always has been and always been in in all aspects of sports, and life.  And coaches, schools, leagues and those in authority, in positions of leadership, have a responsibility to set rules that establish important values.

But everyone in the state knows who the “real” winner of the championship is.  Sanction the team in some way, but depriving them of a championship they earned makes no sense.