Personally, I do not believe a coach can be both dishonest, and a good coach. To break the rules, to cheat, even to manipulate or bend the rules, is a breech of integrity that should not be tolerated. Those that say, "If you aren't cheating, you aren't trying," are still cheating the game and display the type of dishonesty that hurts sports, and teaches damaging lessons.
However, this lack or morality exists in nearly all facets of society and youth sports is no different. Most of the largest problems in sports history originated with a rules violation.
Conveniently you, the sports coach, are poised to make the difference. We're in excellent position to influence this situation in a positive way, and be the example for our athletes to follow.
"You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than a year of conversation." - Plato
Sportsmanship vs Gamesmanship
Ethical behavior on the part of a coach involves not only observing the rules of a particular game, but also, and more important, behaving according to the true spirit of the game, following the intent of the rules, as opposed to finding the cracks in the wording of a rule.
Violating the spirit of the game is referred to as gamesmanship. This is the basis for some unsportsmanlike penalties.
In all game situations, there is a referee, or umpire, involved. Their responsibility is to enforce the written rules. However, the unwritten rules are the responsibility of the coaches and players.
Some coaches take great pride is studying the rule book to see how far some rules can be bent before they're broken. While they understand they've broken the spirit of the rule, they justify their actions by stating that, according to the rules, they haven't broken any.
This is a poor example of leadership and a model that no youth athlete should be subjected to.
No coaching conversation should begin with any topic other than ethics. In no arena is integrity so challenged, yet so expected, as in sports.
An ethical dilemma is a situation in which a person is faced with a difficult choice and in which there may be no rule against the decision, but the decision is not in line with moral and/or ethical standards.
What are you gonna do, coach?
1. During the final seconds of a football game you're winning by 2, the team with the ball was moving down the field with a hurry up offense and your defense couldn't stop them. Your defensive coordinator sends in a backup linebacker with instructions to fake an injury. On the next play, the player faked a leg injury, which gave your team the opportunity to regroup. What is your reaction to the behavior of your defensive coordinator?
2. In a high school baseball game, your team has a runner on third base. As the pitcher began to wind up to pitch, the batter stepped out of the box, and the third base coach yelled, "Hold it!" The pitcher instinctively stopped in the middle of his delivery, whereupon the coach immediately yelled, "Balk!" The umpire called the balk, and the runner from third was allowed to score. The coach broke no rules. But was it good sportsmanship? Or was it gamesmanship? What do you do, coach?
3. You are in your first coaching job as an assistant coach. The head coach is a long-term veteran of the profession and has been in the seat for nearly 25 years. The situation is great for you professionally, and the location is great for your family. You would like to be the head coach there someday. Through midseason the team is struggling. Naturally, the critics begin to get louder. One evening several members of the power structure in the community come to see you - unofficially, of course. They tell you they believe the head coach is no longer effective, and they are going to work to remove him. The tell you they want to see you take over as the head coach and ask if you would be interested in the position. What do you do, coach?
4. You are a graduate assistant at a big time D1 program. You call a high school coach to tell him that one of the university coaches plans on attending their next athletic event to look at a super prospect. The coach tells you that would be a waste of time because the player was injured yesterday in practice, which is not public knowledge. Their next opponent is coached by a close friend of yours; the coach that gave you your first coaching job. And his team is struggling this season - they could really use a win. If your friend had this information, it would significantly change his gameplan prior to the game. Do you pass this information to him or keep the information quiet?
5. Many basketball coaches teach their players that when there is a scramble and the ball goes out of bounds, a player should retrieve the ball quickly and prepare to put the ball back in play, even if the ball was out on him or her. This is in an effort to sway the official's call in their favor. No rule is broken. Is this sportsmanship or gamesmanship. Is this the same concept as a catcher framing a pitch in baseball or softball?
6. At the outset of an AAU basketball tournament, the coach decided her team would have a better chance to win playing out of the losers bracket (double elimination). So, she played some of the bench players the whole first game and kept the starters on the bench. Naturally, the team lost and moved into the losers bracket. The opposing coach was angry, accusing the coach of making a travesty of the game and violating coaching ethics. The tricky coach said she technically broke no rules and therefore her tactics constituted smart coaching. What are your thoughts, coach?
7. You're the high school baseball coach. Walking away from watching a high school football game, you see a couple walking in front of you. When the man reaches into his pocket, he drops some money. When you get to it, you see it's over $1,000, in $100 bills. You can easily put the money in your pocket and walk the other way. What do you do, coach? What would your players think if they found out?