Shake hands and move on
The high emotions of a soccer rivalry took unfortunate precedence last week over one of the prime purposes of high school sports – learning sportsmanship.
After Glenwood Springs High School lost a hard-fought battle to Steamboat Springs, Demons coach Bob Guska had his players skip the traditional post-game handshake.
Guska was angered by what he considers a missed call by an official that led to the Sailors’ win. He also was upset by what he considered dirty play by the Sailors, and believed the physical nature of the contest and the way it ended might have resulted in a fight in the handshake line.
Guska may have had legitimate grounds for complaint, but having his players skip shaking hands with their opponents wasn’t the proper response. Raising the issues with the officials and the opposing coach, and perhaps with state high school athletics authorities, would have been more appropriate.
The whole point of a handshake is to demonstrate that it’s only a game. (It was only a game, right?) When it’s over, the contestants move on, putting the game in its proper context in the far more important game called life.
The handshake should be an opportunity for rivals to acknowledge each other as fellow human beings, no matter what happened as adversaries in the game, or how they played it. Keeping in mind that it’s only a game should help winners and losers alike to accept the outcome with grace and humility.
If Guska feared a fight, he should have been right there to lead by example by putting the game behind him with a handshake. At the same time, he would have been in a position to break up a fight if it happened, and discipline any of his players if they were responsible. He is the one in the position to insist that on his team, fighting won’t be tolerated.
Guska is a likable coach, and his motives may have been well-intentioned at the time. But it sounds as if he got caught up in the emotions of the game as much as his players did. At such times, coaches need to keep clear heads, so that by their leadership their teams keep the sport they are playing in its proper perspective.
Sportsmanship is the most important thing taught in high school sports – more so than learning to kick the ball around a goalie, catch a pass or spike a volleyball.
It falls to coaches to teach sportsmanship first and foremost, and in the heat of competition, not lose sight of that goal.
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