The "Post-Game Handshake" has come under a lot of fire recently due to some confrontations, poor acts of sportsmanship, disrespect, or simply the percieved lack of sincerity in the process. Some organizations and leagues have discussed and/or actually eliminated the practice. A nice discussion started on Twitter after my friend @ClarenceGaines2 shared that @CoachFinamore had called into a show on the topic by @HeyCoachTony on his show, aptly named, "Hey Coach Tony"
Coach Tony, whose show originates from Conneticut, provided an opportunity for my friend Steve Finamore, a successful high school basketball coach at East Lansing High School in Michigan and opened the door for discussion with a couple guys from SoCal. How great is Twitter? Their premise that handshakes have become meaningless, empty gestures and create an opportunity for some conflict isI actually one I largely agree with agree with. However...
The fact that a situation creates a potential conflict is not reason enough to outlaw it, but rather creates another teachable moment we can use to allow another life lesson to be learned. It takes a certain amount of character to do your best, fall a little short and congratulate the victor with dignity and grace - even when you are disappointed and may not feel like it. This doesn't happen only in athletics, this happens in life. Whether it's who got an "A" in a class, won the talent show, made the big sale, got the job promotion, or even when a decision doesn't go your way after a good debate.
Network TV is full of reality shows that are competition based like the talent driven "American Idol" and "X-Factor" or shows where a winner is chosen, such as "The Apprentice" or even "The Bachelor". Producers apparently feel it is good TV to zoom in on the losers and every time I see one who is irrate, disrespectful, or devasted to tears, I think to myself, "that person must not have played sports". What a valuable lesson can be learned to help the player quickly recover from setbacks.
Players need to learn to accept the fact that, while it is often much more fun to win, it is entirely possible to be dissappointed in a result, but proud of your efforts. When a player can face the fact that the gave their best Effort, executed what they've learned, and managed Mistakes - yet still came up short - they have done all they could do. This recognition can deaden some of the sting in a difficult loss, but the point must be consistently reinforced by all those involved - teammates, parents, and coaches.
The reality is that if you have done all those things, and the opponent was still able to defeat you...they must be pretty darn good and deserving of your respct. By congratulating them, you are reallycongratulating yourself by telling them that they must have had to really "bring it" that day if they were going to beat you.
Think about what the disappointment and tears after a loss really means. It's not a stretch to understand they come from the exact same place in your soul as tears of joy. All of the work that caused you to care so much that makes losing so difficult is something a player should be really proud of. All that work must have created a whole lot of joy along the way while you were preparing to play that game. There usually is not great dissappointment after a loss until players have endured the real rigors of preparation to compete that day and have felt the great thrill of victory at some point in the past.
Instead of eliminating "the Post-Game Handshake" because of a potential conflict or the"empty gesture" that it often is, Double-Goal Coaches should work towards filling this moment with meaning, rather than simply participating in a well intentioned ritual of sportsmanship.
I'm always very impressed with Roy Williams and Mike Kzryzewski who consistently appear to have very sincere comments to opposing coaches and certain players after their games, win or lose. There are some coaches who might need to follow their lead and be a bit more sincere as well. If coaches can learn to exercise this practice, certainly players can too.
Athletes should be taught to always pay attention to what their opponents are doing during the competition, as that helps them strive to compete their very best. If a player can recognize ane remember positive aspects of an opponents play, that is precisely what they should appreciate the foe during the Post-Game Handshake. A simple, truthful and specific statement to an opposing player after the game to acknowledge good shooting, nice pitching, or great hustle is honoring your opponent's good efforts. I know players would be honored if an opponent said that about them, so do unto others...
In several of our Positive Coaching Alliance Workshops we show a famous picture of Aaron Afflalo helping up a distraught Adam Morrison after a game. UCLA had just come back from a 16pt deficit to win in the final seconds, ending Morrison's career and catapulting UCLA into the Final Four.
It always amazes me that at that precise moment in time, the rest of the Bruins were celebrating in a dogpile and getting ready to cut down the nets. Rather than joining in the celebration, in the great display of respect, Afflalo stopped to help his fallen foe.
The intesting thing about respect is it is earned, not just given. By competing in such a way that makes an impression on your opponent, a player is much more likely to get that same respect back. Afflalo and Morrison battled for the entire game, and possibly several times earlier in their career. They had earned each others respect.
The other aspect involved is showing some compassion and empathy. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. It is much easier for an individual to win with grace when they have also experienced losing with dignity. For that reason we need to take special care in not "protecting" our players from losing by arranging for them to be on certain teams, or jumping from a team that struggles to another that wins. There are plenty of great lessons that come from losing...if we manage them properly.
It turns out that I know for a fact that Afflalo understood and was able to share Morrison's feelings. A couple years earlier Afflalo was a great high school player competing for a championship in an early game at the Anaheim Pond. It was a tremendous game with several lead changes, a last second shot to go into overtime, which was ultimately lost be Afflalos team. I personally witnessed him handling the defeat then with as much class as he handled their victory a couple year later.
I was present at that game because we were scheduled to play for our divisions championship next. We had just upset the #1 seed, Artesia, and our opponent, Palm Desert, had knocked off the #2 seed in the semis. Palm Desert was coached by a very good friend of mine, Don Brady, who I served with on the Executive Board of the Southern California Interscholastic Basketball Coaches Association for several years.
Our children were around the same age and as they were kids growing up Don coached his kids, as I coached mine. We often discussed their progress as student-athletes and the trials and tribulations of being "Coach-Dad". My son had just graduated and I had the fortune to coach him in high school. Now Don was living that dream with his son, Donald Jr, in a championship game.
Donald Jr, was the starting shooting guard, had a great basketball IQ, and was the ultimate "coaches kid." he had the best game of all his teammates that day but, fortunately for me, we played a great "Fourth Quarter in March" and pulled away for the first California Interscholastic Federation Championship in our schools history.
While my guys met at mid-court and I was congratulating my staff...I thought of Don. While we were experiencing the "Thrill of Victory" he was feeling the "Agony of Defeat". I had been in his shoes as the Runner-Up twice before and knew exactly how he felt. So I cut the celebration a bit short and proceeded to start the "Post-agame Handshake Line"
Don and I exchanged congratulations, because they had a magical season too. When I reached Donald Jr I stopped and explained what a special year it was for him and his Dad, something he's been dreaming about since you were in the 3rd grade and a time they should never forget. He got just a bit more "misty" but we exchanged hugs and moved on to the next person in line.
In an interesting turn of events, he went to University of of Redlands and was classmates with my daughter. They became both played basketball, became great friends and he was actually a teammate and roommates with her future husband. The topic of our game would come up periodically and he told them he was handling the loss just fine until that point in the handshake line. But it was a special moment none-the-less.
I still watch my own son, who has become a college assistant coach, in handshake lines. When the game ends I am tansfixed to his exchanges with opposing coaches and players and am proud at how he manages that situation, win or lose. I see the progression from Hand Slap to Hand Shake to Hand Shake plus a Shoulder Slap to Hand Shake and a "Bro-Hug or all the way to the full man hug when you feel the ultimate respect.
I currently see this practice of respect in many handshake lines among a few players that are particular standouts, friends, or with opponents who they may have been matched up against each other at some point in the contest. However, players can be even more diligent in their observations of all players and, if if nothing else to say comes to mind - thank them!
Without an opponent we couldnt play the game, and a quality opponent is a special gift. Nothing is better than a close, hard-fought game. However, those are also the games that get the most tense and, at times, lead to players being disappointed, upset, angry, and holding grudges...which makes the handshake difficult. But in reality, those are the kind of games Triple-Impact Competitors really love to play in. So at the very least solid eye-contact, a firm handshake, accompanied by a sincere "Thank You!" might truly be in order.