I was browsing The Herald, catching up on local sports, when I came across Bret McCormick’s May 4 article about Rock Hill High School’s season finale. The April 30 game was senior night, a celebration of the team’s outgoing members. But this particular senior night was special, ending in a way that should be a model to all coaches of any sport at all levels.
While there were seven seniors honored, this story is about Moises Pino, who had not played since he tore his ACL in March. Despite the injury, and upcoming surgery, the Bearcat head coach, Cesar Robles, celebrated the senior by allowing Pino to start his last game. Pino received the first pass and then quickly dribbled out of bounds.
I commend the decision to start Pino, it was a great way to honor the injured, outgoing senior. But what happened at the end of the game reflected amazing sportsmanship between two opposing teams.
Trailing by two goals to Nation Ford, a team already heading to the postseason, Robles and Nation Ford head coach Jon Jarrett put into action a plan hatched secretly during warmups. A Nation Ford player, deliberately handballed the soccer ball inside the box, prompting a penalty kick. Robles sent a surprised Pino to take the kick, which Nation Ford did not defend, allowing the senior to finish his career with a goal.
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Because sportsmanship is an overused phrase that means something different to everyone, we need to define it. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines sportsmanship as “fair play, respect for opponents, and polite behavior by someone who is competing in a sport or other competition.”
Every coach, athlete, and parent can learn something by examining each component of this definition in regards to Pino’s story.
Fair Play: I believe that fair play is more than making sure each athlete followed the rules. Fair play is also making sure that coaches, athletes, officials, and spectators honor the spirit of the game, the unwritten and unspoken rules that govern a sport. By starting Pino and allowing him to make a penalty kick, the coaches honored the spirit of the game.
Respect for Opponents: Respecting your opponent is more than shaking hands at the end of a game. It is also being understanding and empathic to the situation. Coach Jarrett was not humoring or patronizing Rock Hill’s soccer team by allowing Pino to score a penalty kick. Instead, he was showing respect for a senior who loved soccer.
Polite Behavior: Being polite should be a life requirement, not just a component of sportsmanship. But in the world of sports, coaches have tremendous influence over their athletes, thus coaches should emphasize polite and respectful behavior to everyone on and off the field. Both Rock Hill and Nation Ford showed polite behavior throughout the game, especially in regards to Pino. Using the plan to honor Pino through a set-up penalty kick as evidence, my guess is the athletes’ polite behaviors are a direct result of their coaches.
While many talk about the importance of sportsmanship, actually fulfilling these characteristics are difficult because it can shift the focus away from winning. Sometimes fair play, respect for opponents, and polite behavior stand in direct contrast to winning the game.
It is easy to think of situations when the Nation Ford coach would not have allowed a free penalty kick. It is easy to think of situations when the Rock Hill coach would not have started an injured senior. Trying to find the right solution to every sportsmanship dilemma is not only impossible but meaningless because each situation is different.
Although, I do hope that each person’s moral compass will guide them to the right decision. Remember that a win stays in the record books but an act of sportsmanship (good or bad) will stay with a person forever.
On its own, Pino’s story is inspiring. However, when examined through the lens of sportsmanship, it becomes remarkable. My hope is that Robles and Jarrett’s plan to honor an injured senior reminds everyone that there is more to sports than winning.
Do you have a question about how to improve your athletic performance? Dr. David Schary invites questions from any athlete, coach, or parent. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.