The Post-Game Handshake…An Expression of Character

Posted: November 14, 2011 in Athletes, Psychology
Tags: , , , , ,

US and Canadian national teams shake hands after Canada wins the gold medal

Shaking hands with an opponent is supposed to be a sign of good sportsmanship.

I don’t agree. It’s not that you shake hands…it’s HOW you shake hands that matters.

After emotionally-charged soccer or basketball games, I always lined up with my teammates to go through the ritual post-game congratulations. The thing I’ve discovered…only the winning team ever really feels like doing this.

I have either witnessed, or been personally involved with, several incidents that were anything but sportsmanlike.  I’ve seen spitting, pushing, elbow jabs, aggressive high-fives and the high-five that was offered and then moved at the last second…psyche! I’ve heard completely inappropriate comments and I’ve seen all-out brawls.

A post-game handshake that escalated into a fight recently challenged my opinion on this subject.

Saturday night I was running our children from a hockey rink to a birthday party to a hockey rink and then home, and all the while I kept up via Livestats with the game for the college hockey team my husband helps coach.  UW-River Falls was playing the second of a two-game series against the defending national champions, St. Norbert College. Because River Falls had won the game Friday, 6-3, they had a chance for a weekend sweep.

When I got home, River Falls was losing 3-0 and I was sure my husband would be relieved with a split for the weekend. By the time I took our youngest to bed, the score was 4-0 in the third period. I read her a book and went back for one last check of the score…it was 4-2 with 9 minutes left in the game. I’ve watched enough hockey games to know that a 2-goal game is far from over… until the last buzzer sounds.

I ran downstairs with my computer, pulled up the radio broadcast of the game and listened, with our older two, as the Falcons came back to tie the game and then go up 5-4. It was somewhat unbelievable. SNC tied the game 5-5 and it remained tied through the overtime.

The broadcaster explained that there was understandably plenty of emotion for both teams at the end of the game.  Pushing, shoving, and emotional (colorful) commentary. It’s hard to imagine being a player on either end of that sporting contest without having an emotional opinion about what just happened.

The real problem arose when the teams lined up for the hand-shaking ceremony. Practically immediately, the players from both teams were involved in a fighting scrum. Coaches and the referees eventually broke things up and the players took their emotions to their respective locker rooms.

Should these two teams have been asked to go through a handshaking line when they had (only seconds earlier) been yelling and fighting with one another?

I initially had a real problem with this entire episode (a conversation that rose to its own escalation when my husband and I talked about it later).

“You HAVE to keep it together at the end of a game and it is good sportsmanship to tell your opponent good game,” I argued.

“There is no reason those guys should have been allowed to stay on the ice. Emotions were just running too high.,” my husband said.

So who’s right about this?  We tell parents who are emotionally charged after a game to wait 24-hours to talk to a coach.  Anger-management experts agree that your heart rate needs to be below 120 if you are to make reasonable decisions, so arguments when you are emotionally charged are useless conversations.  Can players who have just spent emotional, physical, and intellectual energy in a tight and emotional contest be expected to make rational decisions shaking hands?

There were plenty of commentaries about this very issue when two NFL coaches practically went to blows during an after-game handshake.

I know handshakes can happen without incident, but I was not in that rink…my husband was…those officials were.  They should have made a different call.

The national teams for Canada and the US were able to hold intense emotions at bay for the handshake of a lifetime, and after what was arguably one of the most emotioanally intense games I have ever seen. Athletes and teams should aspire toward the class that was displayed during that gold-medal game. There are times, however, when the decision to just walk away is not only appropriate,  it may be necessary.

Maybe there should be two options for the end-of-game handshake routine:

If the teams are in control enough to come to the middle, everyone from both teams should shake hands.

If the teams seem as though they will  only make a volatile situation worse…just send the captains.  It is much harder to dive into mob mentality when there are only a few representatives from each team, and you would expect your captains would represent the team and/or school with the integrity that a handshake should really be.

What do you think? Should we make teams take part in hand-shaking no matter what?

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