The Best and Worst in Catholic Youth Sports

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CYO Basketball

by Lee M. DelleMonache, M.S.,
Coordinator, Management & Planning, ISSCD

CYO Basketball

I am very competitive and love to win. Over the years in my roles as a student athlete, a team chaplain, and a parent of athletes, I have lost championships and I have won them. I have been on the losing end of some hard-fought games. I have also had the privilege of being on the winning end.

I readily admit I am biased. I am the product of Catholic education my entire life. As a student-athlete, I played for Catholic schools. I also served for three years as team chaplain to the Neumann University women’s basketball team. For years, my role as parent has placed me on many bleachers watching my sons play CYO basketball. I  know that I hold CYO sports and Catholic education to a higher standard, thus when it falters, it really rattles my cage.

Recently, in the span of an hour, I witnessed the best and worst in Catholic Youth Sports. The best? I had the privilege of watching a CYO 7th and 8th grade boys’ championship basketball game between two great rivals. The worst? I also had the misfortune of witnessing a CYO coach who condoned his players’ show-boating, moaned constantly about officiating and pulled his team off the court refusing to accept second place recognition after a 17-point loss. This disgraceful behavior was such a disservice to the boys and fans in that gym. All this behavior did was minimize that team’s successes this season, as well as perpetuate the myth that nothing positive can be learned from losing. The boys on that losing team certainly learned a few things: They learned it is expected behavior to showboat after a three-point basket. They learned it’s perfectly acceptable to constantly complain about officiating. Worst of all, they learned there is no dignity in losing.

My heart breaks for those boys.

My heart breaks for any child who is blessed with talent for a sport, but also has the misfortune to be coached by a person who misses the mentoring opportunity that is foundational to coaching. It just saddens me when a coach ignores teachable moments that can positively affect the lives of the young people they are serving.

My heart also breaks for that coach.

My heart breaks for any coach who is part of an organization that does not make clear what is and is not acceptable behavior, or worse, a coach who chooses to ignore the vital elements of true competition: respect and integrity.

Many question whether there are opportunities in and through sports to develop the leadership or character of a coach or student athlete. Research suggests that participating in sports has great potential, yet simply putting on a uniform or being given the title “coach” are not enough. It appears that intentional interventions are necessary. This is where the opportunity for schools and athletic organizations to integrate their mission and values into athletic programs comes into play. Clarifying the mission and values of the school, making known the “non-negotiables” (and sticking to them), and advocating for character-based programming will nurture the leadership and spiritual growth of student-athletes and coaches, which in turn can lead to many benefits to sports and, more importantly, to our world.

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  • Larry Blankemeyer

    Beautifully written, Lee. We need more team chaplains like you. I want to learn more about how to be one!