Everyone — or almost everyone — likes a winner.
Whether an athlete has a positive or negative experience in sports often depends on winning. Job security for coaches is often tied to their win-loss record. And interest level of even the most diehard fans is tied to a winning program.
But when is too much emphasis placed on winning? At every level, including amateur teams, sports has turned to a win-at-all-costs mentality.
“We’re getting to that place,” said Bobby Cox, commissioner of the Indiana High School Athletic Association. “Society continues to be driven by success and numbers on the board and numbers of championships, and is that being done with the best interests of student-athletes in mind?”
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The InSideOut Initiative is a nonprofit aimed at reducing the “win‐at‐all‐costs” sports culture found in communities across the country. The initiative, aimed at high school sports, will launch soon in Indiana, in partnership with the IHSAA Foundation and the Indianapolis Colts.
Three out of four American families with school‐aged children will have at least one child who plays an organized sport — about 45 million children in all, according to the IHSAA. However, youth sports has evolved into an $8 billion industry that promotes early specialization, private one‐on‐one coaching and a significant financial and emotional investment by parents.
And yet less than 3 percent of high school athletes will go on to play college athletics, and less than 1 percent will ever play professionally, according to stats provided by the IHSAA.
“There’s a lot of emphasis put on winning, but you have to stay focused,” Columbus East boys basketball coach Brent Chitty said. “It’s always rewarding for me when you see a kid come back as a minister, a lawyer, a police officer, a doctor. You know you’re doing it the right way. That emphasis is something really important because our No. 1 job is to produce successful people in our communities.”
Chitty said when he was hired by Bartholomew Consolidated School Corp. in 2010, it was as a teacher first and as a coach second. So he expects his players to be students first and athletes second. Playing sports, he said, is a bonus.
Founded by Jody Redman and Joe Ehrmann, The InSideOut Initiative is in its third year.
Piloted in Colorado and Texas, it catalyzes partnerships with educational leaders, state athletics associations and NFL teams to address the brokenness of the sports culture and engages stakeholders in strategic conversations to redefine the role of interscholastic sports in the lives of students and communities, says the IHSAA.
Cox said the IHSAA is always looking for ways to improve the relationships between coaches and student-athletes. He said the InSideOut initiative is an opportunity for coaches in Indiana to do some self examination.
“I think that we need to do a critical examination about why we coach,” Cox said. “What’s on the scoreboard is not the most critical aspect of the education-based experience. Am I here to win a state championships or get as many kids as I can into college, or be a transformational person in the kids’ lives? Our job is to make sure that they are the best-equipped people they can be and teach life lessons.”
Columbus North athletics director Jeff Hester is familiar with Ehrmann, who has written “InSideOut Coaching: How Sports Can Transform Lives.”
In his book, Ehrmann talks about two types of coaching — transformational and transitional. Transitional is more win-at-all-costs, while transformational is about building relationships with student-athletes.
“Joe Ehrmann is a guy that I have a lot of respect for,” Hester said. “I’ve read his books and have shared information with our coaches already. We strive to be more the transformational, where we transform lives. It starts with relationships, and that is one of the more focal points that we try to do here. I was real pleased to see the IHSAA has taken on this initiative.”
North football coach Tim Bless read Ehrmann’s “InSideOut Coaching” book several years ago and said he tries to embrace its concepts.
“We’re in the business of molding young men through the game of football,” Bless said.
His players can attest to that. Senior Jaylen Flemmons is a three-sport athlete who plays football, basketball and track.
Flemmons, a standout wide receiver for the Bull Dogs, said Bless always harps on his players to keep their grades up and practice good sportsmanship.
“I think it’s really important,” Flemmons said. “We all know in the end, it’s just a game. We still have to work on our schoolwork so we can play the game and then get to college, but then (sports) also teaches you a bunch of life lessons about growing up and becoming a man, and coach B is always making sure he gets that across to everybody.”
Addy Galarno is a three-sport athlete at East. The senior plays soccer and basketball and ran track her first two years. This spring, she was part of the Olympians’ Unified track team.
Galarno said her school encourages athletes to participate in multiple sports.
“That’s a great idea to have coaches promote that because going forward to your future, I know colleges look more toward having multiple-sport athletes,” Galarno said. “With multiple-sport athletes, you have less injuries because you use different muscles. It helps in school, too, because you’re supported by not only one team, but two or three teams.”
After Richards Elementary School lost by two points in the 2014 Elementary Basketball League championship, coach Chris Anderson said it might have been a good thing that the Raiders lost.
Richards had gone undefeated and won the title the year before and was undefeated going into the 2014 title game. But Anderson understood that sometimes, kids learn more from a loss than they do from a win.
That season began with Anderson, who stepped in when the school needed a coach, having to instill a lesson in a couple of his players.
“I was coaching a fifth- and sixth-grade team, and basically, it was made up of a bunch of kids that played AAU ball on their elementary team,” Anderson said. “So the very first day of practice, we had to penalize one of the best players for bullying, for being mean to one of the other kids on the bus. We kicked them out of practice, and it changed things.”
Anderson made sure the players who weren’t the stars on that squad had a blast. He said the team turned out to be like a family.
The three oldest of Anderson’s four daughters have played golf at North. The oldest two, Sydney and Holly, are now playing at Ball State, and Annie is a sophomore for the Bull Dogs. Holly Anderson was the medalist in last year’s high school state tournament.
Chris Anderson said North girls golf coach Scott Seavers chooses to take the high road instead of being win-at-all costs.
“We’ve all been on teams where that maybe wasn’t the case, so I think that’s maybe what pushed my girls into golf,” he said. “It’s about you and how you act and overcoming adversity. Golf is a game where you don’t cheat, or you don’t shortcut. That’s why we really like golf. We’ve been in some basketball situations since they were little where it was not the case, and it kind of makes the team sports be a little less appealing. It just really goes to show how important a coach is. Even as coaches, we’re just people.”
Lisa McCarter has had two boys play football at East, and she has seen that the program emphasizes the overall person. She said her kids learned how to respect others, how to earn respect, how to listen to ways to improve and play the next play.
McCarter is president of the Olympians’ Quarterback Club, which feeds players pasta dinners on Thursday evenings. She said the players are all polite and they all say ‘Thank you.’ She said they don’t act like they are entitled, and attitude that comes from the top down.
“One of our mottos at East is ‘Do what champions do.’ That’s not so much about winning, but working hard and preparing and executing your plan and looking to those that are doing the right thing and trying to emulate them,” McCarter said. “Just being part of a team and learning how to put the goals of your team in front of your personal goals is part of developing character.”
Schools can participate
The IHSAA Foundation is shepherding The InSideOut Initiative to member schools, giving them an opportunity to participate and go through the training. There is no mandate for participation. Schools get to decide.
The group had a kickoff event Aug. 25 at Lucas Oil Stadium. Although the Columbus athletics directors could not attend since it was the night of the North-East football game, both Hester and East athletics director Pete Huse indicated they would be willing to participate.
“We certainly stress that we do not want to win at all costs,” Huse said. “We want to follow all the rules. I think the guys and gals that do that are the most successful. Usually when there’s a coach out there that’s a Hall of Famer, they probably already do most of these things. The programs that struggle, I think (a win-at-all-costs attitude is) one of the reasons they do struggle.”
Olympians football coach Bob Gaddis is the executive director for the Indiana Football Coaches Association. Because of the timing of the initiative coinciding with the beginning of the football season, he has not officially addressed it in meetings with the IFCA membership.
Gaddis said the amount of time and money that youth sports is demanding is making it tough for kids to be involved in multiple sports.
“What they want is the full-rounded student-athlete,” Gaddis said. “When we talked about these type of things with the IHSAA, we backed off the amount of time you can spend with kids in the summertime (in football). I know the IHSAA was very appreciative of that and used that as a model for other sports.”
That includes girls sports.
Last month, North volleyball coach Caitlin Greiner and East volleyball coach Stacie Pagnard and assistant Terry Sweasy put aside their teams’ rivalry and combined to form the Columbus Volleyball Academy.
“My goal isn’t just to create good volleyball players, but good girls, good human beings and adults,” Greiner said. “Everybody wants to win, but (the InSideOut Initiative) teaches the girls time management, it teaches them to go outside their comfort zone, it teaches what their maximum threshold can be on mental and physical levels. Being a good coach, yes, it’s motivating the girls. But if I don’t practice what I preach, how can I ask them to respect me if I’m not a good role model for them?”
Pagnard went into coaching because both of her parents were coaches. Her mom was a volleyball and basketball coach, and her dad was a head basketball and assistant football and baseball coach.
Pagnard said some of her role models growing up were her parents’ players.
“I was able to witness first-hand how impactful coaches can be in their players’ lives,” Pagnard said. “A lot of times, education gets a bad rap. But if you have the mindset, which is what the IHSAA is trying to create, of being more than Xs and Os, that’s what you need to have.
“How many kids do you stay in contact with that played 10 years ago? How many of their weddings have you gone to? I think that’s why the IHSAA is doing this.”
The overall number of participants in high school sports increased to 7,963,535 in the 2016-17 school year, an increase of 75,971 from the previous year. That is the largest one-year jump since the 2000-01 High School Athletics Participation Survey conducted by the National Federation of State High School Associations.
Thanks to increases in all of the top 10 participatory sports, the number of girls participating reached an all-time high of 3,400,297. The increase in girls sports participation was the highest in 16 years.
Basketball remains the sport played by the most high schools, followed by outdoor track and field. In terms of number of partipants, football is the most popular boys sport, followed by track and field; while track and field and volleyball are the most popular girls sports.