Many athletes and coaches have said the phrase “they showed good sportsmanship” at least once in their lives. But, what exactly does that mean? Is it simply being good at handling defeat? Or does it refer to a more general attitude towards your players, or team, or coach and or opposing team? Parents often want to teach good sportsmanship to their kids as a means to develop positive emotional and social skills so learning more about this topic is vital.
A professional football game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Arizona Cardinals ended in a 6-6 tie. Justin Bariso wrote an interesting piece on how each coach handled the game and their reaction to each of their respective kickers missing a field goal.
This is what occurred at the post game press conference after that:
“When Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians was asked if he had any words for his kicker after the game, he said simply:
Make it. This is professional, this ain’t high school, baby. You get paid to make it
And how about Seattle coach Pete Carroll from the Seahawks?
[Hauschka] made his kicks to give us a chance and unfortunately he didn’t make the last one. He’s been making kicks for years around here … but he’s gonna hit a lot of winners as we go down the road here.
I love him and he’s our guy.”
Would you label the coaches reactions as sportsmanship, good or bad?
What Is a Good Sportsmanship?
Good sportsmanship has been defined in various ways such as having a positive attitude, having respectful behavior and not flaunting a victory when you win or handling a loss with dignity. I think good sportsmanship means knowing how to produce a win-win situation with your response.
Sportsmanship and Win-Win Behaviors
Win-win behavior means knowing who to credit for the wins and knowing not to blame someone else for a loss. Rarely does a win or loss come to down to one person in team sports. The reality is there are many moments in a game that affect the ultimate outcome. I used to think good sportsmanship mainly applied to how individuals and teams handled themselves after losing, but I have learned that it applies equally in situations where individuals and teams are winning. It also applies to people surrounding the game, such as parents and other fans. In youth sports these individuals act a role models. Yelling at people, even youth in the game, becomes more “normalized” when kids see adults act this way. It is contrary to what most coaches are ultimately trying to teach.
Learning Through Defeat
Many athletes learn through sports to handle both successes and defeats. These lessons apply to situations in all aspects of life. In competitive situations such as sports, you don’t always win. Sometimes, facing a defeat can bring about negative emotions that might translate into bad sportsmanship such as swearing, not shaking hands and blaming someone for the loss. You might consider coping with defeat in this way because it doesn’t translate into learning how to take responsibility for what happened or what could happen again in the future. Responsibility means there is something in one’s control that might be changed for future games. Blaming leaves the athletes thinking it is all about someone else, which means there is nothing the athlete controls about changing this in the future. An opportunity has been lost for building resiliency and growing as an athlete and person. This is the key to developing into a more elite athlete, learning from mistakes and making changes.
Good sportsmanship entails a positive attitude no matter the outcome. You have to respect everybody around you, whether they are teammates, coaches, or opponents. You will also learn some life lessons in the process, such as how to deal with people who are rude or engage in the blaming game. Sports are similar to any other social activity and this means that certain rules of conduct apply. Practice fair play, take responsibility, don’t try to cheat or sabotage others, don’t lose your temper, and congratulate the winner. These reactions create more of a win-win situation. One team wins the game, the other wins by learning to get better because of the defeat.
Short Summary of Tips for a Good Sportsmanship
One of the most important markers of good sportsmanship is to play fair. Don’t rely on any tricks in order to win. Sport is simply a game, and you shouldn’t need to compromise your integrity just to win a game. Wouldn’t you like to win because you are truly great, instead of because you cheated? This is just solid ethical behavior.
Support Your Team
If you play a team sport, it is crucial to always keep in mind that you aren’t the only person on that team. Your reactions to coping with wins and losses affect everyone. Even if you are really talented try to help others shine as well. Be patient and you will provide everybody with a great example of good sportsmanship. These key players help build incredible teams.
Don’t Use Trash Talk
You probably already know that while playing a game, some athletes will engage in trash talk with members of the opposite team. Try to be the person that contributes to the skills of the game rather than insulting your opponent as a means to win.
Keep a positive and energized attitude until the end. Getting really out of control about a play or a reffing call can change the course of the game completely. Stay engaged rather than simply mad at a play. Many of you have witness momentum shifts that can occur when one team starts to get rattled from a poor call.
Handle Winning with Character
Winning feels great. But that doesn’t mean that you should make the opposing team feel bad because they lost to you. Congratulate them for a great game and show your appreciation of their skill. Try to imagine how you would feel if you would have lost and the other team had done everything they could to throw that in your face. Never do to someone else something that you wouldn’t like people to do to you.
Handle Loss with Character
You have to accept the fact that sometimes you are going to lose in sports. The reaction shouldn’t be one of rage or extreme sadness. Starting to blame other people in your team or the officials for the fact that you lost is a sign of poor sportsmanship. Consequently, it becomes a double loss for you as an athlete. Instead, you can motivate your team to keep their heads up. Congratulate them on what was good and advise them on what you should work for your next game. Put a little bit of perspective into your thinking and realize that the outcome of this game is not a tragedy that you won’t be able to get over. On the contrary, it could be a stopping-point to greater things coming your way. In fact, rebounding from loss is a good way to build resiliency. This means you become stronger under pressure and are likely to handle it better in the future. That is how you grow as an athlete.