South Carolina Coach, Darryl Nance, Discusses Sportsmanship

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In South Carolina, the name of the game is practice, drills, and more practice. And that’s for the players, too.

It's 6:50 on an overcast Tuesday morning and the Coach is already at his desk thinking about last night's game. He'll always be Coach, no matter where he goes, or what life throws at him, even though he hasn't been on the sidelines, or on the court for years. It's a designation that travels with you like Doc, Skipper, or Chef.

His hands are full and so is his mind. As the Athletic Director of Greenville County Schools, the largest school district in South Carolina, he's worried, not about sports, but about sportsmanship.

As is every Athletic Director in the country.

Coach Darryl Nance

Greenville is a rabid sports town. The Greenville Triumph are a pro soccer crew; the Swamp Rabbits are a Double-A hockey team; and the Greenville Drive are part of the Boston Red Sox farm system complete with their own Green Monster left-field wall that's 7'6" short of being an exact replica of Fenway. And then there's Greenville's most famous baseball player, a legend who brought sportsmanship to the highest level, only to bring it down to the cellar.

"Shoeless" Joe Jackson turned the White Sox into the Black Sox with a single $5,000 bribe. After the fix, Joe returned home to Greenville to operate a liquor store where he later died of a heart attack. Or was it a tattered heart?

With 77,000 students, a $590 million budget, and over 4,900 teachers - more than 60% of the teachers have Master's Degrees - there are a lot of smart people in the Greenville County School District, and Coach Darryl Nance is one of them.

"Here's why I tell parents to never yell at an official. If you behave badly, officials won't officiate; there won't be any games played; you'll never watch your kid participate; those kids will never experience the thrill, excitement and education-based value that athletics can teach them; and then, because of your belligerence, you didn't just ruin it for your kid, you ruined it for everyone," says Nance, teacher, Coach, parent, mentor, leader, and interestingly enough, amalgamator of more basketball technical fouls than you can shake a Swamp Rabbits' hockey stick at.

Nationwide, the shortage of high school refs is problematic; Arbiter's exhaustive research is conclusive. We've conducted surveys among assigners, athletic directors, administrators, as well as one-on-one interviews with officials, state high school associations, and coaches. It's not so much that the results are conclusive as much as they are alarming. In fact, studies indicate the year-over-year shrinkage of qualified officials is averaging 30%.

A good reason for that is sportsmanship, but it doesn't need to be. "We should never forget that refs and officials are doing that job for you. They've taken tests, they're giving up their one free night each week to do this, and sometimes several nights a week. Believe me, they're not doing it for the money. You would no more expect to be harassed, and take it, in your job, so why do you think it's okay to harass someone in their job? It's not, period," says Nance.

Yet, sportsmanship remains an issue in nearly every school district in the country. So how, in the case of Greenville County Schools, has the Coach managed to exert some sway over bad behavior? Not surprisingly, he has some answers, and a few, very strong recommendations."

“The first thing I do,” says Nance excitedly, “Is have parent practices where I sit in the bleachers with the parents and explain the full-court drills we’re working on for the first 20 to 30 minutes. I explain to them that we have 12 offensive man-to-man plays and 12 offensive zone sets depending on if the ball goes to the left or the right. Add to that another eight defensive options and it becomes a lot to think about with only a split second to make a decision. Then I have them watch a series of full-court defensive slide drills, fast-break drills, boxing out so the parents can see what a practice is all about. But, as we say in basketball, that’s just the tip-off.”

Always the Coach, you can tell Nance is building to a crescendo, preparing for a final seconds, game-winning play that earned him numerous distinctions including South Carolina Coach of the Year and NFHS State Basketball Coach of the Year.

“For me, here’s the game-changer; it’s how we’ve reduced bad sportsmanship which has made the shortage of officials less stressful for us. During our scrimmages, I put the parents in the game. I’ll make them shoot a free throw, inbound the ball, or ask them to call a play. I want them to feel what their kids are going through, constantly reminding the parents that this is just practice and hardly the pressure of a real game.”

You can just imagine what the Coach would be saying to the parents in a half-time, locker room confab, but that’s not what Nance does. When practice is over, he sends his players to the showers and has a frank discussion with his other team, the parents.

“I understand that these folks are entrusting me with their greatest asset. And for me, I need to add value to that asset and improve their son or daughter’s performance; on and off the court. I create a family unit and make all parents sit together behind our bench during games. They don’t just cheer for their kid; they stand and cheer for every kid. This creates a greater sense of sportsmanship, and believe me, other teams and their families notice how we behave.”

And what about sportsmanship as it relates to parents, coaches and playing time? “Now that,” says Nance, “is a discussion for another day.”

The day, in fact, is done, but not the mission. As the Coach packs up his belongings and heads home, he knows that after 30 years in the business, he must still innovate, conquer new challenges that seemed abstract only a few years ago, and most of all, teach life lessons to his student-athletes.

And, of course, to their parents.