COACHING TIPS: Sportsmanship v. gamemanship – Play to Win, or Play to Advance?
There’s no question that the Olympics are a huge international celebration of supremely dedicated and talented athletes, all of whom hope to perhaps win a gold medal in their sport. So what happened with the opening rounds of the badminton competition was so bizarre.
I don’t want to go into too much detail here – but basically four teams in the women’s doubles badminton competition were disqualified from moving on in the Olympic tournament because they were throwing, or tanking, games on purpose.
Why? Because the way the competition was going, the teams figured out strategically that it would be more advantageous to them to “throw” a match in order to avoid winning and thus playing a difficult team next in their draw. In short – by losing on purpose and going into the loser’s bracket, they felt it would aid them in the long run in terms of reaching the medal round.
Unsportsmanslike? You bet. But in terms of gamemanship, was this actually a smart move? Columnists in both the New York Times and Wall Street Journal asked the same question. As it turned out, the competitors were disqualified so their gambit was quashed. After all, the basic assumption of all sports is that all competitors are going to play hard to win.
But as a sports parent or youth coach, chances are you might encounter a comparable situation where sportsmanship dictates your team plays to win, but gamemanship might suggest an alterative approach. Especially in touraments for soccer, ice hockey, and baseball/softball, where sometimes advancing depends on a score differential, you might be tempted to try and “game” the system.
Personally, I feel that if you want to compete, you always play to win. Trying to avoid a tough opponent early on in order to get around and play them later doesn’t make sense to me.