How to Have Good Sportsmanship

By Craig Berman

Sports isn’t just about winning and losing. Showing respect for other participants, and for the rules of the game itself, helps ensure that sports remain fun and fair for everyone. The basics of good sportsmanship are easy to learn, but going beyond the obvious helps display the type of attitude that can be a model to others.

Obey the Rules

A part of sportsmanship is playing fair, which means following the rules and being honest. This means sportsmanship can come into conflict with the desire to win. For example, if you’re playing basketball and the ball glances your fingertips before going out of bounds, sportsmanship requires owning up to that and giving the ball to the other team. While it may be a part of the game to try and lure opponents into fouling, feigning contact when none occurred in an effort to draw a referee’s whistle would not show good sportsmanship.

Respect Others

Good sportsmanship shows respect for teammates, opponents and the officials. Don’t hog the ball and take every possible shot, even if you’re the best player on the team. Part of being a good sport is getting everyone involved and having fun. Acknowledge when opponents make good plays, and help them up when they fall. Treat opponents like you'd like to be treated when playing with friends -- don't taunt them after you make a positive play or when they make a mistake.

Don’t Argue With Officials

Officials and referees may not always make the right call, but they’re doing their best. Accept their decisions without complaint rather than arguing after a poor decision. Don't lobby officials in hopes of getting favorable treatment later. If there’s something you need to discuss, such as an opponent who’s playing too physical, do so calmly during a stoppage of play.

Winning and Losing

Many sports competitions end in a handshake line, but good sportsmanship goes beyond the ritual of slapping palms and saying “good game." After a victory, be genuine when offering praise to opponents, and avoid bragging. You don’t have to be falsely modest and act like the win doesn’t mean anything, but nor should you gloat. After a loss, avoid assertions that your opponent’s victory was undeserved. As legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden said, "When a game is over, and you see somebody that didn’t know the outcome, I hope they couldn’t tell by your actions whether you outscored an opponent or the opponent outscored you.”

Off The Field

Sportsmanship is equally as important on the sidelines as it is on the field. Refrain from trying to tell a youth coach how he should change his practices, or arguing with a team captain that one of your friends should be getting more playing time. Don't boo or yell insults at the other team or its fans. Make sports about the fun and excitement of competition rather than the result, and be an example to others. As former Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne said, "One man practicing sportsmanship is far better than 50 preaching it."

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