I am a sports fan and enjoy watching games like many Americans. In October, I was thrilled when the Red Sox won the World Series. I am enjoying the Patriots season, and am interested in how the Celtics can rebuild. As I revel in Boston’s great sports world, I have become very concerned about the environment and what we are teaching kids about sportsmanship.
Just think about the images of sportsmanship that were on display in the last six months. During the playoffs and World Series we saw objects thrown onto the field, police in riot gear lining the stands, overzealous celebrations leading to burning cars and a couple of deaths. No sooner do we turn the page on that season when we witness NBA players fighting with fans during a game. These are the images that come to mind when you get away from the idea of who won and focus just on sportsmanship.
We may want to rationalize our thoughts about sportsmanship. I have heard phrases like, “well, a series with the Yankees is always like that” or “what do you expect, we haven’t won in 86 years” or “there always have been bad examples of sportsmanship”.
But think about sportsmanship even at the high school level. I have been embarrassed by some of the behavior of parents in the stands at some high school games. We have had murders caused by our “friendly” competitions between rival towns. And on the field, some players have not learned how to be good sports. Where can our children get good examples of sportsmanship? How can we teach our kids sportsmanship so the next generation of fans won’t be worse than this one? Here are some suggestions.
1. Increase access to “pick up” games. These are games where kids decide on the teams and referee themselves. It is in these settings that kids have to set the rules, be fair, and respect each player for their worth. Perhaps some “leagues” should serve this role. Get the coaches and parents out of the way and let the kids learn through this valuable learning tool – pick up games.
2. Parents and coaches need to recognize the diversity of skills. Our culture of focusing on star players demonstrates an overemphasis of personal athletic prowess versus team play. All players should have a role on the team. After all, that is how the Red Sox and Patriots have won their championships!
3. Point out, criticize and punish displays of poor sportsmanship – even by star players. Have the player sit out a game. There should be clear rules for sportsmanship on every team at every level. And those rules need to be enforced. Many high schools have players read and sign a sportsmanship pledge. Parents should read it and agree to it as well.
4. Recognize, praise, and encourage displays of good sportsmanship. Everyone likes it when you see an opposing player help their opponent off the ground. Good sportsman should receive high praise and rewards at the end of every season.
5. Parents – Be Cool. Cheer your child on. But get over the idea that your child’s accomplishments are a reflection on you. Their accomplishments are theirs – not yours. They don’t need to have extra pressure from you to keep their level of accomplishment high. They don’t need a second “coach” in the stands. It is your child’s game to succeed or fail in. Be there to share the joys or the sorrows. But please keep it in perspective. It is their game not yours. Overzealous parents are an embarrassment to the player and the team.
6. Parents and coaches need to remember that it is only a game. How we act towards the sport is the greatest way for our children to learn sportsmanship.
7. Emphasize sportsmanship especially with rivalries. I love the fact that we can have “United We Stand” bumper stickers on our cars but don’t take this to heart when our children are playing a rival town. We all need to keep a perspective that we are united despite having a rivalry. If both sides work on it we could keep all rivalries “friendly”.
8. Competition is valuable. It teaches our kids to work hard and earn what they receive. But sportsmanship is more important than competition. Because if we don’t learn sportsmanship, we as a society will never learn to embrace peace.