- - Thursday, October 19, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Cheating in sports has become a topic we hear about almost daily. Just last week, an NCAA investigation acknowledged that the University of North Carolina created “paper classes” — easy courses designed to help players (especially their successful basketball team) keep their eligibility.

In the world of professional athletics, the Boston Red Sox were discovered last month to have stolen hand signals from opponents’ catchers with the use of Apple Watches.

These trends trickle down to youth sports as well. In the world of youth tennis, legendary player and commentator John McEnroe stated on a recent ESPN conference call that in youth play, “the cheating in the game is, to me, worse than ever.”

At the collegiate, professional, youth and Olympic level, cheating continues to be exposed with all levels of competitors, whether on a team or on an individual level.

And as these athletes cheat, it gives tacit permission to those at lower levels of competitions to find a way to skirt the rules. The result runs the gamut from using performance enhancing drugs to lying about the ages of competitors at youth level competitions.

So why do athletes and coaches cheat? Ultimately, they are trying to find a competitive edge to compensate for a lack of confidence that they can compete successfully within the rules.

In my latest Sport Psychology Today podcast, I interviewed Roger Pielke Jr, head of the Governance Center at the University of Colorado. We discussed the pressure to win at almost every level of every sport. Because of the tremendous notoriety achieved when you come out on top, there are tremendous incentives to break the rules.

Even coaches of younger athletes send the message that if you don’t feel confident enough with your own personal abilities, you must find a way win, fairly or unfairly.

Belief in yourself must be taught to athletes at an early age. And most critically, young athletes must be shown that it is okay to fail. Everyone fails in life, not just in sports. If we can teach kids to not be afraid to fail and learn from their mistakes, they won’t feel the need to cheat.

This isn’t about teaching young athletes to fail; it’s about teaching them not to fear failure. It’s about building character by building confidence.

Dr. Andrew Jacobs is the co-author of “Just Let ‘em Play: Guiding Parents, Coaches and Athletes Through Youth Sports.”

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