Sportsmanship 101

Recently I went out to watch a Las Vegas Wranglers Ice Hockey game. Several fans seated nearby found a venue for their obnoxious commentary. Throughout the game fans were heard shouting out negative comments and obscenities to the visiting team. When fights on the ice broke out fans cheered in delight as the players pounded on each other. Noticeably present were children of all ages seated next to these unruly fans. Unfortunately, many of these children watched as their parents behaved in this manner. Is it any wonder that parents act the same way at youth sporting events?

Lets take a look at a different sport. Rodeo. While watching the National Finals Rodeo in December it occurred to me how great the sport truly is. With a sold-out crowd the energy remains positive and quite supportive. Fans cheer for every cowboy (and cowgirl) during all events. All those in attendance appreciate the efforts. Never does one hear the cheering for the horse to buck the cowboy or for the bull to gore the rider. The efforts and performance of all cowboys is valued and celebrated by cheers and claps.

Every four years the world takes a pause to celebrate athletic performance by way of the Olympics. While support is given to individuals from their own country fans still cheer on performances from all. We rise collectively and clap as the last runner in the marathon finishes the race. It is about the competition and the performance in its truest sense. Yet at our own child’s youth sporting event we somehow lose sight of what is important.

Sportsmanship is the appreciation of athletic performance. Spectators should applaud all action, root for both teams and the performance and success of both teams regardless of affiliation. Rather than cheer only for their “own” team, spectators (parents, friends and siblings) should applaud even the efforts of the opposing team. Players themselves should recognize the good play of opposing players. In tennis, players raise a hand to their racket when they earn a point that is perhaps less than deserving. Other sports have similar protocols.

Why is it that parents and coaches teach their young children to talk trash and berate opposing players? Attend any youth baseball game to see this reality. Parents seated in their lounge chairs next to the dugouts and those seated in the bleachers yell out negative comments about the opposing players. Parents and coaches celebrate when a player strikes out. Players yell at their opposing counterparts and cheer when errors are made. Is this a behavior seen only in baseball? No. It is common in all sports. This disappointing trend continues and is invariably a cultural problem.

Now let us try to change this situation. Is it easy to change? Will change make a dramatic improvement in youth sports? Definitely. Parents can make a huge difference by modeling appropriate behavior to their children. Start by cheering for both teams and the play of all team members. When your child asks why are you cheering for the other team, explain that sportsmanship is about applauding effort and performance not just for one team. Teach your child to appreciate the play of opposing players and their own teammates. Reinforce their recognition of the other team and show them how to tell opposing players and coaches after the game that they played well and it was a good game.

Coaches can model appropriate behavior by talking about sportsmanship and what it truly means. Obviously this presumes that coaches themselves know what sportsmanship is all about. How can a coach (or an observer) know if they truly understand sportsmanship? It only takes a moment to watch a coach in action. How does the coach interact with his/her players? Are they concerned with teaching skills, helping young players grow as individuals or are they more concerned with winning? Winning has its place, however youth sports is about so much more. Coaches can teach players how to cheer appropriately and not to say negative things to opposing players. Coaches can talk friendly to the opposing players and opposing coaches. The real key is to create an atmosphere where young players thrive amidst a culture of positive good feelings and interactions.

Sportsmanship is a celebration of athletic performance. Make it contagious. Help your child to become part of this celebration.