Be a Good Sport: A Guide to Sportmanship

by Brett & Kate McKay on August 4, 2009 · 33 comments

in A Man's Life, Health & Sports, On Etiquette

tennisSource: Life

There’s a reason so many motivational speakers use sports as a metaphor for life. There are innumerable  parallels between what it takes to be successful both in real life and on the playing field. The qualities of determination, skill, and hard work contribute to a man’s chance of winning in both arenas. There is a parallel between life and sports that doesn’t get enough attention, however, and that’s the connection between a man’s character off the field and his good sportsmanship on it.

Good sportsmanship encompasses many aspects of a man’s character, the most fundamental being respect. The good sportsman respects both his teammates and his opponents as equals. He plays with integrity. A win that does not come fairly holds no satisfaction for him. He is honest in his dealings with opponents, because he treats them the way he wants to be treated. He is unselfish in his desire to see all his teammates participate and enjoy the game. He is humble in his victories, and has the proper perspective on his losses. In short, the qualities that go in to making a good man are the same ones that contribute to being a great sportsman.

Unfortunately, as men’s character off the field has declined, so has their behavior on it. Men pout and even cry when they lose, they gloat when they win, and they take sports far too seriously. A man should understand that good sportsmanship truly enhances the experience of both playing and watching sports. Players feel encouraged by one another and take satisfaction in the fact that the game was played fairly. And fans can really enjoy themselves at the games.

As both a player and a fan, I’ve noticed that men could really use some brushing up on the rules of good sportsmanship. So here’s a primer.

Good Sportsmanship as a Player

Play fair. Sounds simple, but you’d be surprised how many men will cheat or play dirty to win.  Remember, it’s just a game. There’s no need to stoop to dishonesty to win something as inconsequential as beer league softball game. If you cheat, you may get the victory in the short term, but it will forever ring hollow for you.

I think Teddy Roosevelt sums it up best: “Hit the line hard; don’t foul and don’t shirk, but hit the line hard!”

Be a team player. If you’re playing a team sport, do your best to get the whole team involved. Don’t try to be the star by hogging the ball. I know this can be hard when your talent surpasses that of your teammates, and you know you could win the game by carrying the whole thing on your shoulders. But selfish game play ruins the fun for everyone else and just makes you look like a jerk. What it comes down to is this: why are you playing this game? Is it for a win to help boost your sense of self-worth? Or is it for the pure love of playing itself? When it’s the latter, you naturally want to make sure your teammates have the same great time that you do.

So make a conscious effort to involve the beginner/poorly skilled players on your team as much as you can. Sure, they might flub the play, and they might even cost you the game. But in the long run it’s better for them and your team. The only way they’re going to get better is if they get plenty of playing time. By leaving them out, you’re denying them an opportunity to improve. And being a selfish player will breed resentment and divisiveness on your team. Have some patience and pass the ball to the rookie.

Stay positive. It’s easy to get negative when things aren’t going your way. A man knows how to stay positive when the chips are against him and his team. Even if a teammate royally screws up, keep positive. Berating him doesn’t accomplish anything besides making him feel worse than he already does. Instead, slap the guy on the back, tell him to shake it off, offer some advice, and let him know some of the things he’s doing right.

Oftentimes, the guy who moans and groans about other players’ mistakes is making plenty of blunders himself. Just remember: you’re not perfect either. Get over it.

Keep trash talk to a minimum. One thing I’ve noticed is that the player who continually runs his mouth with trash talk is usually the player that isn’t actually doing much physically to help his team win. I guess it’s their way of making up for their lack of skill. Instead of wasting your energy and focus on running your mouth, concentrate on actually outplaying your opponent. Let your performance speak for itself.

Also, throughout the game, make a conscious effort to give credit to an opposing player when they make a good play. A simple “nice job” or “good work” is all that is needed.

Lose gracefully. In any sport, there will be winners and losers. And sometimes you’re going to be on the losing side of the equation. The sooner you accept this fact, the easier it will be to handle a loss.  When you lose, don’t sulk, throw a temper tantrum, or cry like a little boy. Be a man and give the other team a congratulatory handshake.

Also, don’t blame your other teammates or the officiating, either. Show some leadership after the game by rounding up your team and offering them a pep talk. Point out what people did well, but also what needs to be worked on. That’s much more constructive than telling your first baseman that he sucks balls.

Finally, remember to keep things in perspective. It’s just a stinkin’ game. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not going to make much of a difference in your life if you win or lose a pickup basketball game. The sun will still rise, your wife and dog will still love you, and you’ll still have to pay the bills. So why let a loss bring you down and put you in a funk for the rest of the day?

Win with class. If you find yourself in the winner’s circle, remember to show some class. Don’t gloat or put down the other team after your win. Let your performance speak for itself.  After the game, make sure to tell the other team “good game.” Offer some compliments to the opposing players.

Respect the rulings of officials. If your game has referees, remember to respect their rulings, even if they make a bad call. They’re human beings and are bound to make mistakes. While it’s fine to contest a ruling, make your case calmly and rationally. If they decide to stand by their ruling, accept it, and move on. Remember, sometimes bad calls go your way, too.

And for your viewing pleasure, we dug up this old educational video from 1950 about good sportsmanship. Yeah, it’s a little hokey and it’s geared towards teenage boys, but I think it does a good job explaining the importance of developing good sportsmanship:

Good Sportsmanship as a Fan

A recent study by the NCAA showed that while sportsmanship among players has improved over the years, sportsmanship by the fans has gotten worse. It’s pretty sad when the people who have the least invested in a sport stoop to inappropriate behavior just for the sake of rooting their team on. Here’s a quick reminder of some things to keep in mind next time you’re at the big game.

Watch your alcohol intake. Most displays of bad sportsmanship from fans could be eliminated if fans would just drink responsibly. Know what you can handle before you start to lose your inhibitions and get unruly. Besides, it’s hard to really appreciate a game if you’re completely tanked.

Respect the opposing team. Use your lung strength to root for your team and not against the other. When the visiting team walks out on to the field, don’t be a cad and boo them. Instead, respectfully clap for them. Applause is also appropriate when an opposing player is taken out of the game due to an injury. Finally, while it’s tempting to taunt and heckle an opposing team, be the better man and avoid it. It just brings the game down.

Respect your fellow fans. Tickets to major league and college sports games cost big bucks. For many people, they are a splurge, something they buy in the hopes of having a great experience. Don’t ruin it for them by running your mouth the whole game. Nobody likes to sit next to the guy who loudly gives his armchair perspective about what went wrong with each play and how the coach is a moron. It grates on the nerves. Also, be respectful to fans who are rooting for the opposing team. Their allegiance to a set of guys wearing different uniforms and playing a game does not mark them as arch enemies or make them less human. Don’t give opposing fans dirty looks or hurl crass insults in their direction.

Watch your language. I’m always amazed at what comes out of the mouths of fans at sporting events. It would make the saltiest of sailors blush. While I can understand an exasperated “damnit” being uttered from time to time, there’s no excuse for a fan’s language to devolve into lurid and filthy talk. Remember, at most sporting events there are children, so adjust your language accordingly. And besides, if the rules demand that the athletes keep their language clean, we should expect that from the fans, too.

Respect the officials. Just as players should respect the officials, so should the fans. I’ve been to sporting events where the refs are booed as soon as they walk out on to the field-before they’ve even made a call! Give the officials the respect they deserve. If it weren’t for them, you wouldn’t be able to enjoy the game. Sure, they all make boneheaded decisions from time to time. But guess what? We do too. Imagine what it would feel like if every time you made a bad decision at work, some jerk was there telling you to go kill yourself or saying some ungodly thing about your family. Not very cool, huh?

When you’re feeling angry at the ref, take a minute to get some perspective on the situation. You may be able to see the whole field of action from your perch in the stands and see the replay in slow-mo on the jumbotron, but the ref is out there at eye level watching the action happen in the blink of an eye. It’s not an easy job, and they’re doing the best can.

Support your team, even when they lose. A true fan sticks with their team through good times and bad. It’s a sad sight to see the bleachers empty at a stadium 10 minutes before a game is over just because the home team is losing. Stick around until the end and root your team off the field.

Any other suggestions and reminders on good sportsmanship? Share them with us in the comment box!

Next time: Good sportsmanship when watching or coaching your kid play sports…..

{ 32 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Torrey August 4, 2009 at 11:39 pm

I was just thinking about this topic for an article on my site after watching Tiger Woods act like a complete jerk at the British Open. It’s amazing that although he his our time’s greatest golfer, he can’t keep his emotions in check. Especially in the ultimate “gentleman’s game”.

There are men who are 20 years past their glory days of sports tbat need to recognize their place in life. It’s ok to be competitive, but it’s another to expect to relive the high school “3 touchdowns in one game memories.”

2 Mike August 5, 2009 at 1:19 am

I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen professional athletes celebrate excessively after making a routine play. Act like you’ve been there before and you’re going back.

3 Jack August 5, 2009 at 1:32 am

Right on. These professional athletes whohave a sharpie in their sock ready to sign the ball are ridiculous. I mean they’re simply doing what they got paid to do. I don’t do a dance every time I finish a report for my company.

But these rules are just as applicable on the amateur level. I play a weekly pick-up game and every time someone on my team makes a mistake this guy on my team swears and grumbles. But the dude makes mistakes all the time too.

4 Ray August 5, 2009 at 7:20 am

This brought to mind an almost daily pickup game of basketball back when I was in school. There was one kid who always played, who, to be totally honest, stunk. But, he was a great guy. For the most of us, we overlooked the two-handed dribbling, kicking the ball every third dribble, and launching the ball over the backboard on nearly every shot. There was another kid who was a great ballplayer that absolutely would not cut this kid any slack. It was funny, Mr Hotshot was the one who usually got picked last -if at all- and the kid who couldn’t hit the side of a barn from two paces was chosen as a team captain more often than not. It seems we had a better grasp on sportsmanship at twelve than most adults today…

5 Helen August 5, 2009 at 8:33 am

Great post!! You need to have good sportmanship if you are the coach too. Be an example to your players. One of my son’s baseball coaches was kicked off the field when they were playing a game for his bad sportmanship..my son was 6 or 7 years old. I’ve never forgotten that.

6 Dan August 5, 2009 at 9:28 am

Good post, although the section for fans is more applicable for non-pro games.

For example, in hockey, it is a very old tradition to boo when the opening line up is announced for the other team. Also, if a popular player leaves his team for a rival, then he can fairly expect to be booed everytime he touches the puck in his old home arena. Fans to do not forgive traitor players very well.

Secondly, if the home team is losing, there is nothing wrong with leaving early. It sends a message to the team….. “Hey, I paid big bucks to come to the game and you completely screwed up.” It’s not really different from walking out during a play or other performance that falls flat. It’s voting with your feet.

7 Helen August 5, 2009 at 9:42 am

Oh, the coach wasn’t just kicked off the field, he was kicked out of the game and had to go sit out where the cars were parked. He had a lot of little 6 & 7 year olds faces watching him as he walk off still yelling. He didn’t need to be a coach.

8 Titus August 5, 2009 at 9:46 am

Although, in all fairness, it bears indicating that there are times when booing is appropriate. You shouldn’t boo another team simply for playing the game, but an official deserves a reasonable level of opprobrium for making a terrible call (not for making a disappointing borderline call, but for really blowing one, yes). Secondly, a player who himself does something flagrantly unsportsmanlike earns a few boos, just to let him know that this sort of thing isn’t looked kindly upon by his fans. Thirdly, I sympathize with the booing of notorious and obnoxious hot-doggers, e.g. Manny Ramirez.

But other than that, you’re entirely correct, booing is poor form.

9 Kevin T. Keith August 5, 2009 at 10:04 am

Good points all.

But I have to say I’ve never seen a shirts-vs.-skins tennis match before. And what is up with the background in that photo? The fence appears to have been colored in with a Magic Marker.

I thinking the story behind that photo is going to be more interesting than the story accompanied by that photo!

10 Jason August 5, 2009 at 10:11 am

Great Article-as every athlete should read this-especially any pro athletes. Anytime you watch Sportscenter there is some kind of excessive celebrating for the most ordinary and trivial of events (goals in soccer, home runs in baseball…) and just lack of respect for other players/coaches/referees. I believe it was last week a baseball pitcher was yelling at an opposing manager to “shut his mouth” and the manager happened to be Detroit Tigers Jim Leyland one of the best managers in the game. There are so many instances of bad sportsmanship because of the amount of pressure and importance that Americans put on actually winning the game. In Japan, if a baseball team has played the game right and to the best of their ability and still lost they see that is a successful game. So many times a pitcher can go out and pitch a heck of a game and still end up losing, but what does he get remembered for-losing. It is just a shame that you go out to any youth sport league and see unsportsmanlike behavior because that is what they see on TV.

11 The Plainsman August 5, 2009 at 10:40 am

I would like to send this to my Monday night men’s hockey league. Everytime it seems my team gets ahead in a game, the other team falls apart and starts laying on the cheap shots… Oh well./

12 MR_Johnson August 5, 2009 at 11:13 am

Again good post, I think the best way to stop this new wave of arrogant basketball/football/etc. is to instill respect and values into the importance of the game. I’ve played many sports and I have to say Rugby is the closest I’ve come to a true gentlemans sport, while there is always the occasional hot head or fight, If the coaches and families watching the game see any obvious foul play, or foul mouthes it will be stopped immediately, and more importantly you’ll lose the respect of everyone in the Club, includin the “old boys” who are highly regarded and will make you pay ur dues in a instant. not to mention if you look at international or national play, all the gentleman wear suits to the game…that right NBA, SUITS! All these 21 year old studs come out of school and dont think they have to pay any respect, walking into locker rooms with pants hanging below their knees and wearing baseball caps. Show some respect for yourself and for the sport.

13 David August 5, 2009 at 11:52 am

Great topic. I have actually become quite frustrated with professional sports due the poor sportsmanship, excessive celebration (on a win) and nothing but excuses (for a loss). But, take a look at professional rodeo sometime – you will observe perfect sportsmanship with the competitors actually encouraging each other. And I’ve never heard a rodeo participant give an excuse other than “I just didn’t work hard enough or try hard enough today”. A good lesson for all the young ones learning about manhood, and perhaps a few of the older ones as well.

14 Dan J. August 5, 2009 at 12:05 pm

For good sportsmanship on display, try playing a game of ultimate frisbee. Players all agree that the game is the most important thing, not winning or losing. And there are no refs, you call your own fouls based on the honor system. Everybody has a great time and it works.

15 Andy Bahlmann August 5, 2009 at 12:17 pm

I have to say the point about having kids at a sporting event is a good one. We went to an Avs game in Denver when they were facing off against the Red Wings. My friend was a big Avs fan, so we were all geared up. Our seats were in the visitor’s section, so we kinda figured it would be an interesting night.
There was some salty language, but everyone was pretty well behaved. What impressed me most, however, was when one guy noticed we had a baby with us–one that was in the pre-verbal stage. As soon as he saw the kid, he apologized to us and started urging his seat mates to watch their language as well. He didn’t make a big ruckus, but he showed respect for a group of fans of the opposing team.
I thought it was a great example of what we’re talking about here.

16 Andy Bahlmann August 5, 2009 at 12:18 pm

I suppose this means I shouldn’t boo or rant or rave for not winning the bag giveaway, huh?

17 Lawrence M August 5, 2009 at 12:42 pm

Well I agree with this article, esp since I’m the little guy that gets trounced on but without fouling and mental games, you’re just playing a physical game. What makes sports great is that they involve both emotions and brains as well. We relate to being bullied by vastly superior foes, yet when we reach deep down into ourselves, we can shake off any insults and blind referees and not let that affect our physical play.

18 Elliot Ness August 5, 2009 at 1:38 pm

Thanks for the post!

Good sportsmanship is always something to remember. And when displayed, the other team mates appreciate it. I sure do.

19 Steve C. August 5, 2009 at 2:52 pm

Quick note:
“Applause is also appropriate when an opposing player is taken out of the game due to an injury.”
- Shouldn’t that be inappropriate? Cheering that a player got injured is appropriate?

20 Brett August 5, 2009 at 2:57 pm

@Steve C.-

It is a weird tradition when you think about it, as it seems like you’re cheering that they got taken out of the game. But people do it as I think a sort of show of support. It’s a “get better soon” round of applause.

21 Ryan August 5, 2009 at 3:41 pm

Steve C,

They are cheering for the injured player to acknowledge that players sacrifice for the game.

22 justin burns August 5, 2009 at 6:14 pm

this is a good article i play soccer and way to many people jump and dive to the field when someone comes near them and thats not fair to me or my teamates. so anyway thanks for writing this article maybe some people who need to understand these basic things will read it like people in my league or michael phelps

23 ced August 5, 2009 at 9:42 pm

gonna send this to my nephew and to the local schools. i love my nephew but on more than one occasion he has embarrassed me by being an ass on the field, along with my brother in the stands, and i let them know that i am not happy by getting up and leaving. thank you for the post

24 John August 6, 2009 at 7:08 pm

“Respect your fellow fans” — absolutely!! They are guests in your city, so act like a good host! Make visitors feel welcome, not threatened. They have actually helped to support your team by paying for a ticket (and they’ve driven who knows how many hours to get there). If you feel you have to do something to uphold the honor of your city, do it by showing the visitors how honorable the residents are.

25 Craig August 8, 2009 at 4:46 am

Nice article.

Another point of respect for fellow fans is to be considerate of others’ view of the game. My father taught me to never leave my seat during the middle of a play, and if I happen to be walking through the stands, stop and duck down during the play then get up and move quickly back to my seat during pauses in the play.

26 Michael August 8, 2009 at 10:32 pm

I think you forgot the most important point: don’t care.

It amazes me how much people (men, mostly) invest in a competition. It becomes a divine war over ultimate domination. To me, it’s always just a game.

27 rich August 18, 2009 at 3:30 pm

Sometimes its acceptable IMO to be “unsportsmanlike.” What Im talking about is instances like what happened to Ian Kinsler the other day. He was buzzed high and inside in the 7th inning and then was pegged in the head in the 9th by the same pitcher. In that instance, if he had done it, I would have had no problem with him charging the mound. A pitcher expects these kinds of things when he constantly picking a player to come inside on and realizes it is inherent. Also when a manager comes out and shouts and screams and hoots and hollers with an umpire, it can sometimes benefit the team if its timed right to fire a squad up. Or a hockey fight for instance.

28 thepeople August 26, 2009 at 6:21 pm

I played in an over 30 hockey league where things got out of hand concerning retaliation.

It ended with a guy getting slammed into the boards and breaking several ribs – he was carted off in an ambulance.

if you work for a living and play in a league for ‘fun’, the only thing that matters is that you get to participate.

Also, if you are a player coach, don’t email your teamates quotes of general Patton to fire them up for the game while you and they are supposed to be working.

29 Paul Smith August 30, 2009 at 11:08 am

Great Stuff Brett & Kate and subsequent comments. Have you any specific sportsmanship stories I can add to my collection of short sportsmanship stories? I’m particularly looking for ice hockey, baseball, basket ball, American football although I also welcome any sportsmanship stories. I’ve started a 10 year campaign to get sporstmanship back on the agenda of kids, coaches and commentators in Ireland, England and hopefully spread beyond at http://www.GreatMomentsOfSportsmanship.com .

Here’s a challenge to determine how committed to sportsmanship
http://www.greatmomentsofsportsmanship.com/?p=290#more-290

Best wishes
Paul Smith (author)

30 juleigha December 6, 2012 at 2:42 pm

thanks for this. it gave me some great guidlines for the essay im writting. it made me think about what sportsmanship really is. its not being the best its being humble. this is great. thanks again. may God bless you always and as we near the Christmas season may God watch ove you and yours. Merry Christmas

31 Hans Verhoog February 18, 2013 at 11:06 am

Dear Brett,

Thanks for sticking up for in-game officials! A recent development in the Netherlands revolves around an icehockey referee who went beserk after being heckled all game long by a “fan”.

There seems to be less respect for in-game officials from fans, who apparently think that it’s okay to repeatedly heckle a bunch of volunteers who get a small game fee (even in our pro-league) to go out and officiate the game that would otherwise not be played at all.

32 Alexander Connell April 11, 2013 at 9:22 pm

Well, I think that in the pros at least, there are times when it’s appropriate to heckle a player. Not for having an off night but in the cases where he’s clearly not trying.

That’s an insult not just to the fans who’ve paid good money to support the team but to the other players who ARE working hard.

I’m a fan of the Colorado Rapids (soccer) and we used to have an forward who expected the ball to be placed at his feet every time. If it was even slightly ahead of him he just stopped running and let the defense clear it away to safety. Then he would wave his arms and berate the team mate who’d just busted his hump putting the attacking move together.

Who knows how many games the team lost because he was too lazy to try and win the ball.

So you’re darn skippy he got booed and to everyone’s relief, was gone in a year.

I’ll also boo a player who’s diving, pretending to be hurt to gain an advantage or otherwise obviously cheating.

Otherwise, great post.

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