By Ken Reed

If you watch sports, or are involved in sports in anyway, you hear the term “sportsmanship” frequently.  Too often it’s a word that is simply given lip service.

I coach my daughter’s 7th grade basketball team and I regularly stress the importance of sportsmanship with our players.  I do this assuming that they know what I mean by the word sportsmanship.  I make quick comments about “playing fair” and “doing the right thing,” but I never go into specifics.  The players typically nod and I move on.

One day, one of my players asked me, “What do you mean exactly when you say sportsmanship?”  I quickly mumbled something that I thought sounded pretty good at the time, but later I started thinking about my answer and I realized I wasn’t happy with it.  Despite stressing the importance of sportsmanship, I didn’t have a good definition of it in my own head.

So, I spent that evening contemplating the concept of sportsmanship a little more and came up with this description of what I believe it’s all about:

Sportsmanship is the Golden Rule of sports.  It’s treating the people you play with, and against, as you’d like to be treated yourself.

Sportsmanship means playing hard AND fair.  It’s acknowledging that opponents are fellow competitors who are there to help you bring out the best in yourself, and vice versa.  Without fellow competitors to compete against, there are no sports.  Opponents are simply fellow athletes who love the game and are striving to be the best they can be.  They are not enemies and shouldn’t be treated as such.

Demonstrating sportsmanship requires showing respect for the game, yourself, your teammates, your opponents, and the referees, judges and other officials needed to have a game.

I feel a lot better about that answer than the one I gave to that player on my 7th grade team.

Above all, I feel sportsmanship is about bringing the ethics of the Golden Rule into the realm of sports.  That holds true for athletes, coaches, game officials, administrators, executives, owners, and fans.

A little more sportsmanship from everyone involved in the world of sports would go a long way toward improving the sports experience for all stakeholders.

Ken Reed, Sports Policy Director, League of Fans


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