There are many who would say that if you’re not cheating, then you’re not trying. While some may see some sense to that argument, it’s often hypocritically employed or understood in terms of bending but not breaking the rules. Adults do this all the time. Bill Belichick, who is often regarded as the greatest football coach of all time, and certainly of our generation, has had his fair share of run-ins with league officials and the rule book. The Patriots were caught spying on opposing team’s practices, and there was that whole incident with the deflated footballs that resulted in an almost-suspension of Tom Brady. If Bill Belichick can do it, why shouldn’t our kids do it too?

Context is king. Children are not adults and adults who break the rules are often aware of the consequences of being caught. Moral issues aren’t always black and white, but children don’t always have the emotional or intellectual maturity to realize why right and wrong exist and why it’s important to live in general. Adults can catch the nuances of a moral dilemma and are often forced into difficult decisions that seem to violate one set of ethics or another. While this argument may not apply to the New England Patriots, it nonetheless is a serious question that requires emotional, experiential, and moral guidance.

Why It’s Important to Condemn Cheating for Children

Vince Lombardi once said:  “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” But he clearly wasn’t referring to a children’s sports league when he devised that quote, and there were moments when he regretted ever having said it at all. The fact is, integrity matters. It matters more than winning. Winning is great, but how you win matters more.

Lombardi also said:

‘I wish to hell I’d never said it…What I believe is, if you go out on a football field, or any endeavor in life, and you leave every fiber of what you have on the field, then you’ve won.”

Playing dirty and cheating has no place in a children’s sports league. While the Belichick strategies were an example of a coach doing everything in his power to win, while bending and not breaking the rules, consider what happened to former Saints coordinator Gregg Williams. Williams was putting bounties on the opposing team’s valuable players and offering his own players financial incentive for injuring them. There’s a fine line between doing everything in your power to win and having an unhealthy and unsportsmanlike attitude. Consider this fact in terms of children who may not always see the line for what it is.

Sports are about culture, and they’re about character. Your children are not getting paid millions of dollars to be national celebrities, and their paycheck and livelihood are not dependent on their capacity to throw and run. As parents, moral ambiguities like the difference between Bill Belichick and Gregg Williams are difficult to explain, and even more difficult for children to understand. Youth sports should be about character building and not winning by any means necessary. We must not teach our children that Machiavellianism is a means to succeed. On a long enough timescale, those who employ such tactics fail more miserably and more utterly, than those simply lose a game or two.

For more information and thoughts on children’s sports leagues, please have a look at our webpage, League Network.