Good Sports. May We Be Them, May We Raise Them.

I spend a lot of time in schools. And it is readily evident to me: On a grand scale, respect of others is expected, taught, modeled and praised in our K-12 schools. And doing so is setting up students to internalize the significance of good citizenship, of being a good neighbor, of contributing to a community that contributes to you.  

It’s a good and healthy thing. I applaud the educators who are making it happen. 

Why then, I wonder time and again, is the exact opposite often the case on our athletic courts and fields, in practices, during games, among players and fans alike?

As a mom of two boys who play sports, I’ve seen it – at all levels and ages, from Little League to college. And it just feels so entirely… wrong. 

The taunting and jeering of the opponent, the degrading of officials, excessively building up or tearing down one’s own teammates. I was at a high school football game last Fall where the losing team’s adultfans threw insults and threats at the winning team’s fans and families as they exited the stadium. Please, tell me I’m not the only one whose stomach turns when these things happen, who simultaneously wants to head for the car and seek out the closest administrator…

The big question here, is: Why are we unraveling on our fields and courts all the good work being diligently done in our schools?

The argument I’ve heard time and again is that it’s all a form of team spirit, of supporting one’s school. 

I’ll let that response sit there for a spell…

Really?

If you take just 30 seconds to consider that rationale, you’ll find more holes in it than in my grandma’s rusted 1950s strainer. 

Because we all know better. 

This Winter I was at a college basketball game. The hosting school had invited area elementary schools to attend the game, as a field trip. The kids and teachers were noticeably enjoying the game and the overall experience – what a neat opportunity to allow these kids to experience being on a college campus.  

But then, staff from the college began teaching the students to taunt the opposing team, to scream and flail their arms during free throws, to sing the “Hey, Hey, Goodbye” song toward the end of the game. 

And I sat there. Wanting to both head for my car and find the nearest administrator. All I could think of was the poor teachers in the stands, observing all of their hard work being proactively encouraged to unravel, all in the name of “school pride”.

Sportsmanship, by definition, is “fair and generous behavior or treatment of others, especially in a sports contest.” 

Isn’t this what we should be striving for?  Healthy competition, respect of others?

Yet, there are those (probably more than we’d like to admit) who will put lipstick on a pig by confusing poor sportsmanship with school spirit. 

Taunting is taunting. Simple as that. And allowing it (much less fostering it) is allowing a rampant culture of incivility… the very opposite of what educators are working hard to foster in our schools. 

A month ago, while working in an elementary school, I was asked this question by an 8-year-old: How can my love of sports make the world a better place?

Great question, right? I thought for a moment about the best way to answer such an insightful query. And then, it came to me. I looked that student in the eye and said, “You can make the world a better place by respecting your opponent, officials, teammates and coaches at all costs. Every practice, every game. Even when you don’t feel like it. Because that’s what is good and right. And the world will notice it, and like it.” 

He smiled, and nodded. 

Kids, they get it. And deep down, all of us do… So let’s take a cue from our schools, and begin modeling and expecting on our courts and fields the very behavior that fosters authentic community, strong citizens… a better world. 

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One Reply to “Good Sports. May We Be Them, May We Raise Them.”

  1. Both of my own children participated in sports throughout their growing-up years. One of the most powerful moments I have ever witnessed occurred during one of my son’s T-ball games. My son’s coach actually stopped the game and asked a group of parents to please support all of the kids on the field, no matter which team they were on, as T-ball was all about learning. There was stunned silence for a few moments. Clearly, those parents were embarrassed. After the game, several of those same parents went to the coach and apologized. I had never seen anything like it—nor have I ever seen the likes of it again. It was a very powerful moment—clearly it must have been, as I have remembered it for nearly 30 years!!!

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