12/13/10 — Playing sports on any level is a privilege, not an entitlement

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Playing sports on any level is a privilege, not an entitlement

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on December 13, 2010 1:47 PM

A short, disturbing moment brought to light the selfishness that's surfaced in high school sports over the past couple of seasons.

Toward the end of a recent basketball game, one head coach called a substitution timeout to get his reserves onto the court. One of the starters rolled his eyes and asked "who, me?" when a teammate walked out to replace him.

The game's outcome had been decided by then.

Instead of understanding the coach's perspective, the player stormed to the sideline, sat down on the bench, whined to a teammate and pouted while the few remaining seconds ticked off the clock.

Since when did wearing a uniform give someone the sense of entitlement and the right to play every minute of every game?

The incident reminded me of an experience I encountered while a head coach for a high school volleyball team. A senior starter spent nearly 30 minutes chatting with a manager on the sideline during practice one afternoon while her teammates sweated through drills on the court.

I reminded her practice had started.

She snapped back, "I'm having a conversation."

I stood quietly before I made my next move.

I walked over to the senior, who was one of the team's best outside hitters and an emotional leader on the court. I called her aside and explained she wasn't setting a good example for her teammates.

Instead of listening, she snapped again.

The comment is not printable.

I walked into the athletic director's office and spelled out the problem. We called the senior into the office and she continued to show an attitude, so I asked her what it meant to her when she put on a uniform.

"It means I get to play," she said.

You could have heard a pin drop.

"Do what?" asked the athletic director.

"You heard me. I'm a star and I get to play," said the senior, a wide grin spreading across her face.

That grin quickly faded.

"I'm afraid you miss the point," said the athletic director, who asked me to shut the door.

Beads of sweat popped out on the senior's brow and she nervously shifted in her seat while the athletic director gave a "dressing down" that also can't be printed.

In essence, she said that wearing a uniform does not give a player entitlement to anything. When you earn the uniform and wear it, you're an ambassador for your school, your team, your community and your family.

Playing any sport is a privilege, not a right.

Unfortunately, the senior never got the message.

Once she returned to the gym, she found her friend and continued their conversation. I suspended her for the next match. When her mother showed up and wanted to know why she wasn't playing, I said "we'll discuss it after the match."

The senior's mother brewed while she sat alone behind the bench. Her temper nearly boiled over when she learned about the episode from the previous day's practice.

The senior returned to school the next day and asked to speak to the team before practice. Tears streamed down her face as she apologized for her actions, and asked for forgiveness.

We honored her mother's request and suspended the senior for the next match, too. When she returned to practice after the weekend, it was almost like a new person had taken over her body.

The senior worked hard all afternoon and stayed afterwards to start work on her punishment of 300 laps. She eventually led us to another conference championship and earned all-conference honors along the way.

She learned a uniform is just a piece of cloth.

And she realized that working as a team and putting selfishness aside meant more than just wearing a number on her back.