Football: The “Post-Game Handshake,” A Demonstration of Sportsmanship or Worthless Gesture

A recent email from Tony Fiorino (host of ESPN’s radio show Hey Coach Tony), regarding an upcoming show of his (Amazing Sportsmanship and the Post-Game Handshake), definitely sparked my interest. So on Saturday, October 22nd, the morning the show was to air, I made myself a sports shake and sat down at my computer to listen in, not fully knowing the direction Tony might take with such a topic. A straight-shooting, tell-it-like-it-is kind of guy, Tony has certainly been known to speak his mind. This was going to be good!!!

His guests on that Saturday included a group of Somers and Bridgeport (NY) 8th grade football coaches who had recently met in an expectedly lopsided football game.  A special lot these coaches, they took that Post-Game Handshake behavior referenced in the title of this article from a mere gesture on up to a completely different level altogether.

In so doing, their actions, and the actions of the athletes under their direction, demonstrated to all watching what true sportsmanship is really all about.  Even those at the top of their game (at the youth level) can look beyond mere scores on the scoreboard, at least when given positive direction and taught the right lessons by those who know what the right lessons are.

His call-in guest was Greg Doyle, a National Columnist for CBS Sports. An individual (I gathered from what he said and what was quoted from his recent article Enough with the stupid postgame handshakes already) who feels that the post-game handshake is nothing more than a worthless, empty gesture. A ritual that should be removed from the game and that youth level athletes learn nothing from. Greg simply doesn’t seem to see any tie-in between the post-game handshake and that act being a teachable moment for sportsmanship.

Whether you are merely a sports fan, coach, parent of an athlete, or current competitive athlete, Tony’s show was certainly worth a listen:

My take on all this is simple. Mr. Doyle’s opinion is one gathered from situations that do exist but that are present because of teachings, or lack thereof, from individuals who place a higher priority on “winning” over intrinsic principles like sportsmanship. A “what is” type of scenario where coaches, parents, and/or athletes have lost focus on what it means to be a “true” winner.

Now on the opposite side of Doyle’s argument you have the coaches from Somers and Bridgeport, the ones who know the difference between just winning and being a real winner. The kind of people we need more of coaching at the youth sports level because they make a difference. They are the ones who represent the “what could be” type of scenarios that are possible when the right priorities are part of a winning program, a complete package so-to-speak.

You see, the idea that good sportsmanship just happens all by itself, or that it should be learned on its own without guidance, is a false premise at best. Just because we don’t see it in all cases (as Mr. Doyle infers), does not mean that it does not or cannot exist.

Good sportsmanship is a taught behavior. It is not the handshake at the end of the game that is at issue, it is what the coaches, and athletes, bring to that handshake that is at issue. Removing the handshake does nothing, removing and changing attitudes is everything!!!

Instead of focusing on removing a gesture that should represent the end result of good teachings, let’s concentrate on why, in too many cases, that is not so. Certainly seems like the youth football coaches from Somers and National Champion Bridgeport teams can do it, so why not everyone else.

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