When Coaches’ Misconduct Disrupts Post-Game Handshake Lines
By Doug Abrams
Late last month, the Omaha World-Herald reported that police ticketed a 52-year-old coach for suspected assault and battery on a 10-year-old opponent as the teams traded high-fives in the post-game handshake line after a flag football game. According to writer Kevin Cole, the Omaha coach (whose team had just lost decisively) grabbed the player by the collar and nearly lifted him off his feet. The coach allegedly told police afterwards that he “snapped and lost his temper” because the player had slapped his hand “too hard.” “You will respect me!,” the coach told the boy.
The local youth football association immediately banned the coach, and prosecutors contemplated whether also to charge him with suspicion of disorderly conduct. I have found no later media accounts of the legal outcome, but the incident that Cole reports sheds light on coaches’ leadership roles moments after youth teams have finished a game.
“Models of Good and Acceptable Behavior”
In a variety of youth sports, most post-game handshake lines proceed without incident as they reinforce the sportsmanship and mutual respect that youth leagues and interscholastic competition strive to teach competitors. Last month’s Omaha incident is not the first disruption, however, nor is it the first disruption instigated by a coach who lacked self-control expected from a team leader.
In a handshake line after a pee wee hockey game in Vancouver, British Columbia in 2012, for example, the winning team’s 48-year-old coach intentionally stuck out his leg and tripped a 13-year-old opponent, whom the coach had berated from the bench throughout the game. The player broke his wrist when he fell onto a teammate. A spectator’s video, which quickly went viral, showed the coach pointing menacingly at the boy immediately after the tripping. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SrpVzRyxhuk (1:12).
The Vancouver coach pleaded guilty to one count of assault, and the court sentenced him to 15 days in jail, to be served on consecutive weekends. “Society,” said the judge, “will not tolerate the assault of children by adults.” He called coach’s sentence “a signal to other parents heavily involved in the sporting activities of their children that they must be seen as models of good and acceptable behavior and not as instigators of violence and of riotous behavior.”
“Follow the Leader”
A Kentucky school superintendent recently said this about the value of post-game handshake lines: “Teaching our students to win and lose graciously are life lessons that we hope and expect coaches to embrace.” The superintendent urged principals and athletic directors to “[a]sk coaches to remember that very few of our students will be college and professional athletes. However, ALL of them need to be able to demonstrate character at crucial times.” The point is that most men and women face periodic setbacks throughout adulthood, and that resilience learned on the playing field can increase the prospects for overcoming adversity.
When they explain to players the value of post-game handshakes, coaches can share wisdom from Olympic gold medal swimmer Amy Van Dyken. “The most important lesson I’ve learned from sports,” she says, “is how to be not only a gracious winner, but a good loser as well. Not everyone wins all the time; as a matter of fact, no one wins all the time. Winning is the easy part; losing is really tough. But, you learn more from one loss than you do from a million wins. You learn a lot about sportsmanship.”
“It’s really tough to shake the hand of someone who just beat you,” Van Dyken specifies, “and it’s even harder to do it with a smile. If you can learn to do this and push through that pain, you will remember what that moment is like the next time you win and have a better sense of how those competitors around you feel. This experience will teach you a lot on and off the field!”
The title of “youth coach” confers responsibility to set an example before, during, and after games. Coaching resembles a process of “follow the leader” because players learn from what they watch. Even after a game when the team has come up short, coaches participating in handshake lines need to remain above the fray because actions speak louder than words. Coaches teach self-control by maintaining self-control.
Sources: Kevin Cole, Youth Football Coach Accused of Attacking 10-Year-Old After Boy High-Fives Him ‘Too Hard”, Omaha World-Herald, Sept. 30, 2016; Hockey Coach Jailed For Tripping Child, Guelph Mercury (Ontario, Canada), Feb. 27, 2013; Sam Adams, Hockey Coach Jailed For Tripping 13-Year-Old Player As Teams Shake Hands After Junior Game, MailOnline (England), Feb. 27, 2013; Backlash Ensues After No Handshake Directive, http://www.wlwt.com/article/backlash-ensues-after-no-handshake-directive/3536011 (Oct. 10, 2013); Amy Van Dyken Quotes, Backlash ensues after no handshake directive Backlash ensues after no handshake directive Backlash ensues after no handshake directivehttp://www.azquotes.com/author/26506-Amy_Van_Dyken ; https://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20090216120321AASqj65 (quoting Van Dyken)