Sportsmanship is a full-time job

We’re giving sportsmanship a bad name. Just mention the word and most young athletes conjure up something unpleasant.

I asked 10 grade school volleyball, soccer, and cross country enthusiasts to tell me one word they first think of when I said a word. Listen to these answers and the number giving an answer:

Fun: “winning” (four), “soccer” (three), “running” (one), “picnics” (one), “mom” (one).

Team: “volleyball” (three), “soccer” (two), “Mariners” (two), “win” (two), “family” (one).

Sportsmanship: “bad” (six), “coach” (two) “none” (one), “A-Rod” (one)

“Coach” and “A-Rod” define good sportsmanship to 20 percent, while “Bad” and “None” define it for 80 percent. One youngster wanted to talk about how Edgar is a good sport.

One 10-year-old suggested congratulating cross country winners is good sportsmanship “because my sister always does.”

Ten kids is not a huge sample, but the opinions of 10 pretty well match the messages we send about sportsmanship. In the real world of youth athletics, instances of good sportsmanship overwhelm the negative examples. Newspapers and TV seem to mirror the kids’ opinions. However, in the real world of youth athletics, instances of good sportsmanship overwhelm the negative examples. Unfortunately, good sportsmanship is not news!

Last Sunday on four NFL games, “good sportsmanship” was pointed out once. Once! My tally of mentioned “unsportsmanlike” acts totaled thirty-six (36).

It’s no shocker that “Coach” and “A-Rod” define good sportsmanship to 20 percent while “Bad” and “None” define it for 80 percent. Poor sportsmanship actions get attention; good sportsmanship is defined as not being bad.

Sportsmanship, the bad kind, has become a major concern in all sports. Campaigns to promote and/or require good sportsmanship seem to focus on recognition of those who are practicing poor sportsmanship. The “don’t do as they do” approach is obviously failing to teach and reward the moral values of sportsmanship.

To compliment an opponent is being seen as a sign of weakness. Not true.

A high school volleyball player asked, “Why should I be a sport when someone is ragging on me and putting me down?” During, before, and after a game it is easy to dump on someone if they are dumping on you. Sportsmanship is full time, not just game time.

Compliments are signs of strength and confidence. Today, it takes greater courage to be a sport than to be successful and arrogant. In competition, opponents are needed. Good sports have to break a national trend. They may even need stand alone.

The admirable “Just Play Fair” initiative of the Washington Interscholastic Activities Association (WIAA) schools may mistakenly imply that kids aren’t playing as fair as they should. All but a few are and all have the right to expect to compete under fair conditions.

Golf is a classic example of a sport where it is possible for kids to have fun and yet be a failure. Sportsmanship is an integral part of golf and every sport.

Our emphasis should be to provide some practical ideas and suggestions to regain a sense of maturity in sports. And it will take courage for any coach to consider sportsmanship ideas. Athletes must know the coach will be observing, commenting and rewarding effective sportsmanship equally as pointing out lack of sportsmanship.

Sportsmanship is more than being nice or having a feeling for others. At least four great advantages are gained by young athletes as the are learning sportsmanship.

1. Self-discipline by handling pressures well.

2. Courage to stand alone, be strong, and do what’s right.

3. Team cohesion by being positive and supportive.

4. Moral code is strengthened.

Here’s a starter list of ideas and suggestions, hopefully practical:

1. Coaches, parents, players place sportsmanship above winning.

2. Coaches and parents list the expectations of all players.

3. Compliment opponents’ good plays.

4. Shake hands.

5. Give support in failure.

6. Make sportsmanship a part of the publicity of the team.

7. Recognize displays of sportsmanship (show a sportsmanship card, game ball symbol, decal, or other thank you).

8. Practice sportsmanship during practices; give an award after each practice.

9. Form a parent or booster club sportsmanship support group.

Constant reminders let athletes know behavior is special. They know they will receive backing when our value structure is beyond just winning games. Let’s shake on it!

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