the lost art of sportsmanship

“The grace of the gesture is as important as the victories” – Rene Lacoste


The Guardian, as part of their spectacular “Joy of Six” series, recently wrote one on sportsmanship. And it made me think about the lost art of sportsmanship.


First. Take a look at the 6 ‘sportsmanship’ moments.


Try and imagine any of the happening today (because the most recent highlighted is almost 40 years ago).

You can’t. Well. If you can you have been smoking too much weed.


Beyond the weed comment … I will admit upfront that despite playing competitive sports at some good levels I have never had that killer instinct competitive muscle. It’s there … but it wasn’t there all the time … it needed to be triggered (and, maddeningly on occasion, it was difficult to uncover the trigger). I say that to put what I am going to write into some perspective.

Because winning has never meant everything to me. I loved the game. And I loved playing the game well. And a good outcome was just the icing on the cake.

Regardless of my personal attitude … there is a weird dichotomy taking place in the sports world today.

At the youngest youth level it all begins with a “no one wins or loses” perspective.

And then, oddly, young people are encouraged to specialize (in my youth we played every sport any season and just shifted). Today? Find what you have an aptitude for and then excel (max out) on that one.

And then when you specialize there seems to be an overall “win at all cost” mentality built into the competitiveness. So it isn’t just being competitive … it is win at all costs.

I could find a story every day showcasing incidents displaying the loss of sportsmanship and respect for authority and opponents.

Refs, umpires and coaches are verbally and physically assaulted.

Parents are sometimes excessive in the way they push their kids to be the best.

Coaches are demanding perfection from their players and punish them when they give anything less.

In addition.

Children learn by example.

So what examples do they find when it comes to sports?

Turn on any college basketball game to discover how easy it is to read the lips some irate college coach dropping an F-bomb while screaming at the refs and players.

Or a tennis tournament where players are yelling at umpires and line judges.

The list goes on and on.

It is kind of sad.

The one place we don’t really see this?  The Olympics.

The Olympic motto: “The important thing in the Games is not winning but taking part. The essential thing is not conquering but fighting well.”

We need more of that attitude … everywhere in sports. Not just the Olympics.

Maybe athletes just need to remember while they are getting paid … it is a game (for god’s sake).

“Do you know what my favorite part of the game is? The opportunity to play.” –Mike Singletary

Some remember.

And what Mike said? That is why we play sports–or at least why we’re supposed to.

That is what we need to remember ourselves and teach our children.

Being the best hitter, running back, three-point shooter or goalie is nice … but it’s not what it’s all about.

Sports are supposed to be about being the best we are capable of.

And respecting our own abilities as well as respecting others … regardless of whether their best is better than our best.


And respecting everyone … teammates, opponents, coaches, refs and spectators.


Sports are inherently competitive (hence the reason there is a winner and a loser).

And competition brings out the best … and worst … in everyone.

Competition, and sportsmanship, inevitably is about character.

competition makes a person’s real character come out.

And, I hate to break the news to everyone, it takes work and training and shaping and thoughtfulness.

Sportsmanship SHOULD be simple. But its not.

Kids get mixed messages from mentors and role models.

You can teach principles of good sportsmanship to anyone but, in the end, it’s about each person.

Cheating, lying, badmouthing, complaining to officials are all reflections of someone’s character.

More people need to take responsibility (and not blame “the game” or “the moment”).


I am not using this following as an example to pick on Serena … because I just think it is indicative of an overarching sportsmanship thing.

So. In 2009 Serena Williams threatened to shove a racket down a referee’s throat during a semifinal. Here is the deal.

With higher salaries and more on the line, it’s not surprising that more and more athletes are making headlines for unsportsmanlike conduct.

“I think there’s so much pressure on players today. The average player makes close to three million — they’re making so much money that they have a lot self-imposed pressure and they need a scapegoat. Sometimes that becomes the umpire.” – Jim Evans (Academy of Professional Umpiring)


And this is a big but.

I don’t think it is an excuse.

Sportsmanship isn’t really about sportsmanship … it’s about personal character.

“Sportsmanship for me is when a guy walks off the court and you really can’t tell whether he won or lost, when he carries himself with pride either way.” – Jim Courier


Here is the hard part to some people.

Cheaters do win. Maybe not philosophically but in the win/loss column.

And that is where I like to point out to people … that is why this is about winning or losing from a character standpoint.

There are a couple of scoreboards for people who play sports.

One is the win loss record.

And one is a life scoreboard.

Sportsmanship shows up on the life scoreboard.

And I wish more people playing sports would pay attention to that scoreboard.

How do I now they don’t?

Go back to the Joy of Six article.

How often do you believe that would happen today?

We are losing the art of sportsmanship.

Written by Bruce