Sports and personal relationships

To this day, my best friends are guys who I first met when I played against them in middle school before becoming teammates in high school. When people talk about the positive aspects of sports, friendships and personal relations often are cited as among the greatest benefits to sports participation.

The short vine above is Tim Duncan and Chris Paul embracing after the Clippers game 7 victory. I missed the first half of the game as I was driving home after refereeing soccer game.

In my last game of the day, I was the assistant referee for an u16 boys game in the State Cup. It was a weird game, as it started with extreme wind, then had a 30-min delay for lightening, and finished with almost ideal conditions.

It was a hard-fought, but clean game. It was intense. The coaches were up and telling and cajoling their players throughout the game. Eventually, one team won 1-0 on a break away where the player calmly chipped the keeper. It was a pretty nice goal.

I do not pay attention to the rankings of the teams as I am unfamiliar with the clubs, but I believe it was at least a mild upset. I have refereed the losing team before in a tournament, and I believe one of the top players in the state is on that team. The coaches’ behavior late in the game suggested that it was at least a slight upset. Regardless, it was a good game and fairly evenly contested. Either team could have won, but the winning team just made a slightly better play when it had its best chance, whereas the losing team put a header over the bar with its best chance. It happens. It’s a game of inches and all that.

The details are really besides the point.

After the game, the losing coach, after cursing at the center referee, yelled at his boys. He was mad because they had given bro-hugs to their friends on the winning team. This pissed off the coach. The coach was obviously there to win, and he felt that this behavior demonstrated that the players did not care about winning the game. He said as much. He questioned everything about their desire and told them not to come the next day if they wanted to be friends with the other team. I wrote about players hating to lose previously.

Does anyone question Duncan’s or Paul’s desire to win? Is Duncan less of a competitor because of his embrace with Paul, the player who vanquished the Spurs from the playoffs and possibly ended Duncan’s playing career? Is that the message that most took from the embrace? That Duncan did not care about winning?

When I coached in Ireland, we played a road game out in Killarney or Tralee or somewhere. Anyway, too far to play a night game and drive home after the game, so we spent the night. My players went out with the other team. This was a custom. I refused. It did not make sense to me. We lost something like 92-90 on a missed 3 at the buzzer. It did not feel right to grab a beer with a team that just beat us.

I was like that. I was ultra competitive. What was the point? How would grabbing a beer with the other guys after the game affect the game that was played already? Who cares? At the end of the day, the result of the game does not matter. It had no effect on the ultimate championship or anyone’s livelihoods or health or reputation. It was just a game and a chance to drink a pint with some other guys who shared similar experiences and values.

I don’t remember the scores or who won when I played my friends in high school. I remember Aron’s rattail and Bill making crazy plays as a shortstop and Clarence’s slow, unorthodox shot that somehow went in. We didn’t embrace or hang out after the game because we didn’t know each other yet. Would it have been so bad if we had? Does anyone believe that Popovic admonished Duncan for his post-game embrace?

By Brian McCormick, PhD
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League
Author, The 21st Century Basketball Practice and Fake Fundamentals

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