Sunday, February 27, 2011

That’s the way the basketball bounces

The girls high school basketball game was turning into a blowout. My reader’s daughter’s team led by more than 30 points.

As the fourth quarter began, the team still had three starters in the game. On the bench, however, were six girls who had yet to hit the court at all. Finally, the coach substituted in five of the players who hadn’t seen court time yet.

Less than 10 seconds later, however, the coach quickly called a time out and put one of the starters back in. “This player was hot,” my reader writes, “and the coaching staff realized that she had a chance to tie or break a school record for three-point baskets.”

The coach wanted to make sure she hit the record. So he instructed the other four girls on the floor — the ones who had just gotten into the game — to get her the ball for a three-point shot.

“It took her four more team possessions to get her record-tying three-point basket,” my reader writes.

“There were kids on the bench who had played minimal minutes all season,” he writes. “Here was a game in which they could have gotten some quality playing time. A few may have even scored their first baskets of the year. Yet this coach found it more important to try to have one player break a record of another kid whose record was a good one against a good quality team.”

My reader’s faith in her daughter’s coach and his values has been challenged. “When did crushing another team become more important than playing your whole team?”

“Maybe a daily reminder of what his job is really supposed to be would be helpful,” my reader writes. He is contemplating getting the coach a plaque that reads, “Men do not embarrass young women.”

My reader wants to know if it is ethical or right as a high school varsity coach to put the needs or wants of one child ahead of her teammates.

Clearly, my reader is upset. But I’m not convinced that the coach can be condemned for wanting to “crush the other team” if he replaced his starters and then took four more team possessions to get the one girl her record-tying basket. If he really had been trying to crush the other team, he likely would have kept all of his starters in for the duration of the game.

That still brings up the question of whether it was right to want to feed the ball to this one girl to give her a shot at the record rather than giving the other girls on the team a chance to get game time and simply have a shot at the basket.

The game was already sewn up and the coach’s decision to give a star player a chance to achieve something extraordinary seems a reasonable decision. Does it send the message that every player should get an equal chance? No. Does it reinforce the importance of teamwork in winning a game? Probably not.

If the coach insisted in every game that this one player be given the ball to shoot, that might cross the line into unfairness and simply be bad coaching. But on this one occasion if the coach decided that the girls might work together to give a teammate the chance to accomplish something truly remarkable, that seems a perfectly ethical choice to make.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Right Thing: Conscience, Profit and Personal Responsibility in Today’s Business, is an associate professor at Emerson College in Boston, where he teaches writing and ethics.

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Sean O'Leary said...

Ethical? Yeah, probably. But, do you know what would have been noble? If the girl with the chance at the record had said to the coach, "Thanks for the opportunity, but I'd rather someone on the bench get a chance to play."

Is that kind of magnanimity too much to ask or expect? Of course. But, wouldn't it be great if it happened?

Anonymous said...

If the coach was only trying "to crush" the other team, he would not have put the bench kids in at all. It sounds as if the potential record breaking event may have been brought to the coach's attention. He did the right thing by leaving the benchers in to help her achieve that goal. It sounds like a win-win-win decision.

Anonymous said...

This seems a good example of a true ethical dilemma -- either action by the coach could be supported. On another level, however, this provides an opportunity for your reader, the coach, and other parents (and the team) to talk about the values and priorities for the team as well as the external pressures -- the coach's performance review or potential college scholarships, for example.

tk said...

Prevent such a dilemma by outlining expectations for the players and the parents before they sign on to the team. Possibly the coach told the players and parents his priority was player stats and team record wins and not player game participation. It just depends on what was expected by the people involved.

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