There's a reason we have rules. If we didn't have rules, then we could bully people with all sorts of reasons, requesting exceptions to the rule. Rules keep the bullies in line. Once I'd overheard teenagers reflect over an adult bullying situation. They were surprised at this bullying. They thought once they left high school, they wouldn't EVER have to deal with bullying again. "No, no," I told them, "high school is your training ground to learn how to deal with bullies."
Millions of bullying examples abound in sports. But here's one this past weekend which got me thinking. A losing baseball coach proclaimed a runner on second base was injured. It was news to the runner. When he walked towards his dugout, he suddenly remembered he was supposedly injured, but not too bad; so a slight limp appeared. Then the losing coach asked for the runner to be replaced with the last runner into the dugout. When the winning baseball coach pointed out the this replacement request was actually an illegal substitution, tempers got short.
I'm setting up this situation not because I expect everyone to be a baseball fan. The interesting part was watching and listening to the two coaches interact. Even though the replacement was an illegal substitution, the losing coach expected the winning coach to roll over and just let the illegal substitution happen. In fact, the losing coach said, "you are winning 7 to 1, don't be such an ass about it."
Once the shock of this encounter died away, I realized the fundamentals behind this whole scene. Rules in business and sports are a way to level the playing field. But not everyone brings the same skills nor training to business or sports. There are always winners and losers in everything. Sometimes one of the parties cheat. The loser sometimes cheats in an effort to level the playing field to his skill level. Sometimes, the winner cheats to make sure he wins. Either way, breaking the basic rules to create an advantage for yourself is a form of bullying.
In the case above, both coaches demonstrated their values by their actions. One was willing to cheat and break the rules. The other was willing to keep the rules. One wanted to bully; the other refused to be bullied and stood up for himself AND his team. This past weekend, I learned that to stand up to a bully, I must remain calm, firm and decisive when requesting third party intervention. But more importantly, I must know the rules of whatever game I'm playing, or whatever business contract I am working within.
I am happy to say the coach who followed the rules convinced the home plate ump with his calm and firm reasoning. You can only imagine how the other coach and his own players reacted. Now I see a question niggling in the back of your mind. Who were these two guys coaching? They were coaching teenagers.
But who, or what will the teenagers remember? Will they learn that when you're losing you should try to cheat? Will they learn the critical moment on when to break the rules, and how to bully for an advantage? Will they learn how to be verbally abusive? Will they learn poor sportsmanship? Are their prefrontal cortices developed enough to see the broader picture of that tense confrontation? All I can hope for is that all those parents identify the real situation, and explore the dynamics with their teenager ball players. Our teenagers saw a vivid and real demonstration on how to stand up to a bully that they should remember for the rest of their lives.
May 27, 2014