The latest headlines surfacing today on the Lance Armstrong doping scandal got me thinking about cheating. I’m not a cyclist nor am I really familiar with the sport, so I wouldn’t dare try to pass judgment or spew meaningless opinions on that situation. But I think it’s safe to say that most people have encountered cheating at some point in their lives, whether it be in sports, academics, marriage, kids’ activities, you name it.
I’ve been an athlete my whole life and I think sports are a great way to teach your kids the value of hard work, integrity, and the art of losing gracefully. I played Division II collegiate golf, and although I didn’t have the lowest stroke average on the team I worked hard, was a team player, and earned the role of Captain my senior year. It was challenging at times to balance school, golf, and my social life. I’d earned both academic and athletic scholarships so a lot was riding on me keeping my nose to the grindstone and staying out of trouble. For the most part I did, but there were a few slip-ups along the way… It’s college – what do you expect?
Scorecard via shutterstock
I will never forget two things that happened to me during my college golf career; both relate to cheating and I’m happy to say both involve taking the high road. My freshman year we were invited to play in a pretty big Division I tournament and I qualifed for a spot on the starting team. It was within driving distance so my parents traveled to watch me play that weekend. In addition to our official scorecard our coach had us keep a separate stat sheet so we could track our fairways hit, number of putts, greens in regulation, etc. We tallied our stats up each night and de-briefed as a team to set goals for the next day. The night after our first round I was going through the exercise and realized that I’d written down an incorrect score on my official scorecard. It was totally unintentional and obviously went unnoticed by my playing partners. But when I replayed the hole in my head I realized the number on my stat sheet – a bogey – was correct, and the number on my official scorecard – a par – was not. I nearly went into cardiac arrest. All I really had to do was erase the bogey on my stat sheet and put down a par so the 2 cards would match up. Nobody would know. But I couldn’t do it. I remember going to my coach’s hotel room and telling her what I discovered. I remember trying so hard not to cry, but as a young college athlete in one of my first big tournaments I couldn’t help it. I was mortified, disappointed that I’d let my team down, and ashamed that I’d made such a stupid mistake. My coach told me she would have to report the error to the tournament committee; she did first thing the next morning and my round was officially disqualified. Somehow I managed to put my game face back on and played well the second day, triple checking every hole to make sure my score was accurate. What a tough learning experience; it’s one I will always remember and ironically, always be proud of.
Later in my college career it was my coach who proved to be a shining example of honesty and integrity, although it came at my expense. As she was perched on a hilltop watching my teammates and me through binoculars, she saw me hole-out a shot from 20 or so yards off the green. A serial 3-putter, I was always thrilled to chip in, especially if it was for birdie. So I made my way up to the green and grabbed my ball from the hole. What I didn’t realize was that the ball, wedged between the flagstick and the side of the cup, hadn’t made its way far enough down into the hole to be classified as “in”. My eagle-eyed coach somehow saw that from 300 yards away and came racing down the hill in her cart to recite the rule and assess a 1-stroke penalty. Damn, my own coach! But she was right, and I have NEVER forgotten that stupid rule…
It’s sad to know that so many people – from students to professional athletes to overly competitive parents – aren’t willing or able to accept not being the best. They aren’t capable of putting in a little more effort in lieu of taking the easy way out. They put so much pressure on their kids to win at all costs, making them believe that being “just OK” at something isn’t good enough. Cheating screws things up for everyone; it wrecks the curve and it makes people who might otherwise shine look mediocre. People need to put their egos and fears of failure aside and realize that sometimes being “the best” goes beyond what you see on a scoreboard, in a transcript, or in the record books.
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