KHSAA "no handshake" directive shows complete lack of leadership

I just heard today about the Kentucky High School Athletics Association’s “directive” on post game handshakes. The news broke yesterday, in what the KHSAA themselves later called a “poorly worded” communication. The initial communication (which I can’t seem to find after a pretty thorough scrubbing by KHSAA) was mis-interpreted by “key media outlets and veteran users of social media” to mean that there was a ban on post game handshakes after several incidents of fights in the past few years. In a clarification issued today, Julian Tackett (the KHSAA commissioner) tries to clear things up on two fronts:

  • First that a directive is not a ban, or really even a rule – it’s more of just a suggestion. What are they suggesting specifically? Merely that IF schools decide to allow post game handshakes that they have staff in place to monitor it. If they don’t monitor it and there is an incident, then KHSAA will punish the offending schools (it’s not clear to me whether there would be any sort of hearing to determine fault or if both schools would just be assumed equally guilty).
  • Second, they wanted to make clear that the officials for games should steer clear of any post game activities and more specifically that they have no responsibility for anything that goes on after the game – handshake, fight or conga line – whatever it is the officials should be on the bus by the time it starts.

The clarification issued today does clear things up a bit and Mr. Tackett does fall on his sword for not adequately reviewing the initial announcement that went out yesterday so he does deserve credit for that as well as for the speed at which the clarification came out.  Some have argued that the clarification was only the result of all the negative media , but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt. Because I think the initial statement and the clarification represent a missed opportunity. The KHSAA missed an opportunity lead, instead choosing to issue a forceful suggestion to schools that, when combined with the instructions given to officials, makes it clear that the KHSAA’s is most interested in simply covering their asses. If there is an incident in the future they have now established plausible deniability.  I understand why they did what they did (there are too many lawyers) I just don’t understand why they stopped there.
What would leadership have looked like? It would have started by naming the root of the issue: why are student athletes fighting in handshake lines? I have only been a parent of a Kentucky High School athlete for the past 3 months and in that time, I have seen absolutely zero issues before during or after a match.   In fact I have seen quite the opposite – a victorious team and defeated team come together at center court and graciously accept whichever side they ended up on.   One of the moments that has stuck with my daughter this year almost more than any other was from the handshake line were she happened to be on the winning side – in a big way – and the other team was very complementary about how well she played.  It really taught her something about graciousness.  She has had just as many experiences on the other side in previous seasons.  So I am admitting that I have no direct experience of post game fights that is leading me to some of these possible causes, however here are some possible causes of the lack of sportsmanship:

  • Players – the players in HS now grew up in the “everyone gets a trophy” generation.  My kids started playing sports in leagues that didn’t keep score (every kids knew what he score was though) and where everyone got a trophy.  I always asked them if they thought they deserved it – sometimes they did and sometimes they didn’t.  If they were going to get one at least they could tell the difference.  Kids hat are used to always getting a trophy don’t know what it is to lose.  Imagine what they’ll do when they get fired?
  • Parents – we’ve all seen “that parent”. The one that yells at their kid, yells at the other kids on the team, yells at the coaches, yells at kids on the other team, yells at the refs and may even yell at other parents.  And we’re usually lucky if all they do is yell.  What are you teaching your kids?  No wonder they aren’t good sports.
  • Coaches – most coaches are really great people who love their sport and understand their vocation.  But as with any population of people, there are the exceptions.  In coaching it’s generally folks that have lost perspective.  They just don’t understand that (a) they are not Bill Belichick, (b) it’s not the super bowl and (c) their player is not nor is likely to become Tom Brady.
  • Refs – same story here as coaches – most are really good folks that have an even more thankless job (seriously, thank your official the next time you get a chance).  The exceptions here are usually one of two forms: to slow to call the game or looking for a reason to exert control.  Both of these have deleterious effects on the moods of the players – but honestly it’s only the really tight games that he refs have any effect on.  So given the small percentage of “exceptional” refs multiplied by the small percentage of close games they influence, this is no doubt a pretty small issue, especially compared to the players themselves and their parents.

I am not claiming that these are all of the root causes, nor that all of them listed are causes at all.  I am listing them as an example of what leadership by KHSAA would have looked like: find the root cause and name it.  Once named, KHSAA could have gone on to suggest some things to solve each of the issues.  Programs for players to teach more sportsmanship.  Training programs for coaches.  Conduct policies for parents.  Again, this is not a prescriptive list – rather an example of the sorts of things that they could have recommended if they decided to lead instead of just CYA.
What worries me the most about what the KHSAA decided not to do (lead) is the example they are setting for the student athletes.  Sportsmanship is merely an application of leadership in a specific environment.  If the KHSAA wanted better sports men and women on their fields, maybe they could start by being better leaders in their offices.






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