News and Opinion from Sisters, Oregon

The game that no one wins

In the game of basketball there are winners and losers. Lovers of the game hate losing. It’s like a bad taste you can’t get out of your mouth.

Those of us that have grown up in athletics tend to have this winners and losers, Viking or victim mentality. As a former collegiate basketball player, I believed that in order for me to win, someone else has to lose. As it turns out, this is a really unhealthy lens when it comes to interpersonal relations. Over time, my therapist helped me to understand that in the game of life, there do not have to be winners and losers. Moreover, I learned about a game where no one wins called The Drama Triangle.

The Drama Triangle, outlined by psychologist Stephen Karpman M.D. (1961) describes a dysfunctional mode of operation through which the “players” in the game are either Persecutors, Rescuers or Victims. The Persecutor is verbally, emotionally and/or physically aggressive or abusive, the Rescuer is a people-pleaser who fixes and rescues others, and the Victim is powerless and without choices. We play the game unknowingly, assign each other roles, then switch roles.

The reality is that no one can win at this game, and the roles change depending on who you talk to. (See Karpman Drama Triangle/)

Over the past year, our community has observed the narrative of the high school girls’ basketball investigations. After three investigations into the same allegations of harassment, intimidation, and bullying on the part of the coaches, three rulings have been issued that did not remove the coaches from their positions.

Parents and coaches all started with a mutual goal of a rewarding and educational basketball experience. Turns out whilst we all set out to play basketball, we were actually playing a different game. Instead of the classic basketball triangle between point-guard, wing, and center, it seems the players of the game became Karpman’s triangle of persecutor, rescuer, and victim.

A recent opinion article in The Nugget stated that “The administration, through their action in keeping the coaches, left the victims with no other choice but to retreat while the coaches remained. The administration claimed they wanted the players back on the court but at the expense of facing their perpetrators, which caused fear and anxiety. The District tried to mitigate this issue by hiring a monitor (rescuer) to keep the coaches in check.” (Emphasis added).

It is ironic that the suit was about harassment, intimidation and bullying, yet after multiple cleared investigations one might wonder if the victim being persecuted, intimidated and bullied is the coach. Perhaps I become a rescuer by defending a friend who patiently teaches our most vulnerable kindergarten students, and volunteers to run free basketball clinics for young hoopsters that have barely learned to lace up their sneakers. We are all susceptible to being caught in this game that no one wins.

To win, Karpman outlines a new strategy. The Persecutor learns to harness their personal power by assertively and responsibly setting firm boundaries. The Rescuer learns to reach out to others with empathy. Finally, the Victim learns vulnerability, owning their choices while being open and trusting with healthy people.

It’s time to call a timeout and analyze our game plan, or at least recognize which game we are playing. Our kids are learning from our behaviors. Our job as parents, educators, and coaches is to model the healthy thinking patterns and humility we hope to one day see them develop.

My heart hurts because we have all lost in this recent scrimmage. In the words of David Brooks (“The Road to Character”), I hope this defeat gives us humility and a greater awareness that we all are both splendidly endowed and deeply flawed.


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