Problem solving in high school sports has never been harder

A long time ago in Harvey, I was tasked with a book report in front of my English teacher and classmates on “Lord of the Flies.”

The book, at least for a teenager in the mid to late 90s, was horrible.

So I spent two minutes discussing the seriousness of the situation – plot, characters, writing style. It wasn’t something that caught my eye, and I refused to budge, even for a key note.

In front of an astonished congregation of peers and a teacher, my opinion was that the book stank.

My rating was a D-plus – it was deserved, but maybe I got through this day in part because of the desire to express an honest opinion.

That’s the risk we sometimes take. You say something knowing full well that cause and effect is not going to be comfortable, especially when you have a public platform.

I remember this book report as we begin another year of my weekly opinions on the high school sports landscape.

If anything has been learned from a point-and-counterpoint exchange with our community over a variety of topics – from the lightest to the most serious of our society – it’s that we have to worry.

Because the ability to solve problems and willingly find common ground has never been so difficult.

We agree that some fan and parent behaviors are out of control – and yet the same patterns are materializing.

We agree that high school sports have lost some of their soul as they have become a business – and yet more and more outside influences are taking advantage.

We agree that specializing in one sport all year round can have a detrimental impact – and yet its supporters are more vocal than ever.

We agree that the public versus private debate that has dragged on for decades remains – and yet complaints abound at the best attempt ever to address it with a competitive balance.

We agree that having 16 teams in the football playoffs may not be the best path – and yet the state governing body trumps the state coaching association when it suggests a modified path.

We agree that spotlighting our best and brightest student-athletes is an obligation – and yet there are those who resent having the spotlight shone on their neighbours.

We agree the system is broken in football as the club v high school tussle intensifies – and yet the same rules are set in stone.

We agree that hockey needs two divisions for the playoffs – and yet we are here with the insistence of the powers that be on just one.

We agree that athletics needs to govern tee times better – and yet, even when the system changes, there are still coaches manipulating it without firm pushback.

And it goes on and on and on.

We spend so much time voicing our positions and arguing with those who disagree that we don’t take the time to find common ground.

It’s almost like there are those who believe that if you have a different opinion, you’re somehow not allowed to have that opinion.

When you have a public platform like me, you learn a lot about human tendency.

We agree on more than we can voluntarily assume or share, but you also learn that your opinion is not the only one, and there are likely others who do not share your opinion, sometimes vehemently.

It’s awesome. You should hear others and be prepared to change your opinion. And yes, sometimes you also have to admit when you are wrong.

Unfortunately, this free trade has become less and less likely to lead to a solution.

Last year was among my worst with nasty opinion-based comments in this space, up to and including being forced to block a few people’s future correspondence because the exchange was so counterproductive.

Last winter I had an article about the lack of support for the frozen four in hockey and how it could improve. A reader has shared via email how little he cares about the subject and wonders why anyone, including himself, would want to read so many words about it – and obviously that’s just and so be it . But the idea that this opinion is suitable for a hockey audience aside, the solution seemed simple: so don’t, and that’s fine too.

The four hockey freezes have an attendance problem, largely due to him | Opinion

It is learned over time. There will be instances where you will speak your mind, and your audience will vary. If something doesn’t interest you, don’t waste your time.

It is the statement of disagreement and refusal to budge that scares me.

In 2021, during the pandemic, a parent approached me on deck during a swim meet. He worried that his student-athlete’s swim team wasn’t getting enough attention from me, that it seemed like the coverage was going to schools that visited that team’s pool. Listening to his concerns, although not my intention, there was some validity to his argument, and that has been rectified over time.

One aspect of this conversation that struck me was the sarcasm and awkwardness at the start and the common ground at the end.

I told him that I preferred and respected his direct approach, because after all, what good was the alternative?

He was ready to listen to me, and I was ready to listen to him. We reached common ground and a solution through constructive dialogue and moved on.

If only it were always so simple.

As we begin another year of opinions in this space, of course, let’s agree to disagree.

There will be times when I will give my opinion on topics you don’t care about or disagree with – and yes, whether you like it or not, it will sometimes continue to include topics which are uncomfortable and which intersect with societal problems. This goes hand in hand with the right to have a platform.

But let’s also do a better job, for the sake of the impressionable, of having productive conversations that lead to a solution.

No impassioned rhetoric. No threats. No straw man.

Be prepared to have an opinion and stick to it – even like that day in Harvey with “Lord of the Flies.”

But also be prepared to listen and allow the potential to adapt – and I hope on this point we can all agree.

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