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What Is Sportsmanship?
Sportsmanship is when competitors or viewers of competitive events treat one another with respect and exhibit appropriate behavior. Good sportsmanship means being fair and ethical to those you’re playing with—both your teammates and the opponents—and is especially crucial for young athletes to learn.
Sportsmanship can also apply to audience members, including viewers in the bleachers and coaches on the sidelines. Sportsmanship doesn’t mean going easy on opponents, because most times, aggression is part of the game. Being a good sport means your conduct is polite and gracious, and that you avoid disrespecting others during game time.
What Are the Qualities of Good Sportsmanship?
Sportsmanship is more than just being nice to others. There are a few main qualities that contribute to sportsmanlike behavior:
- Be supportive. If you’re losing, it’s best not to take your disappointment out on your teammates. Being a team player is essential during team sports, where support can mean everything. In a game, players are doing their best, and everyone wants to win. People are more productive and efficient with positive reinforcement, and a few words of encouragement or high-fives can sometimes be all someone needs to get their head back into the game.
- Have a positive attitude. Having a negative attitude about the game can bring down the whole team, making competition less fun for everyone. Childish or inappropriate behavior can dampen the spirit of the game and make players seem immature. Positivity is an important trait, especially when playing team sports.
- Be respectful. Whether you win or lose, it’s essential to show respect to others. Avoid being passive-aggressive or insulting your peers over their gameplay. Even if you suspect someone of cheating, (which may not necessarily be the case), hurling harsh words at your opponents or teammates can damage your reputation, and the respect others have for you. Whining about calls or arguing with umpires also demonstrates unsportsmanlike conduct. Some people, however, consider trash talk part of the game and have a higher tolerance for it than others—but a general rule of thumb is that as long as it doesn’t cross into personal boundaries, trash talk can be a fun way to amp up the spirit of the game.
- Be willing to learn. If you end up losing, rather than take it out on the opposition, try to learn from your mistakes. For instance, if you make a lot of forced errors during a tennis match, practice returning the balls that made you struggle the most. If you hit a lot of your backhands into the net instead of down the line winners, work on that technique to increase your chances of future success.
- Practice self-control. Games can get emotional, but players should always make a conscious effort to control their emotions and focus on the game. Damaging sporting equipment or playing surfaces is a surefire way to be a bad sport, and can also embarrass your teammates.
Why Is Good Sportsmanship Important?
Good sportsmanship is important because it makes competitive play more enjoyable for everyone. While winning might feel like the most important thing during sporting events like tennis matches or basketball games, good sportsmanship teaches competitors how to be gracious and respectful towards others. Bad sportsmanship fosters a negative environment and can take the fun out of the game.
4 Tips for Showing Good Sportsmanship
Anyone can learn how to be a better sport while competing. Check out the following tips for displaying good sportsmanship:
- Be a gracious winner. Being a sore loser when the other player or team wins isn’t a good look, but neither is gloating over your win. Winning doesn’t make one team more superior to the other; it means the winning team’s skills and best efforts put them in the best position to win that game. You can be excited and happy for yourself for winning without taunting or putting down the opponents.
- Play fair. Cheating at a game is poor sportsmanship. Fair play means having a level playing field. Every athlete or competitor has an equal opportunity to win, and no one has a more significant advantage or disadvantage over someone else. If you want to win at a game, everyone must start with the same conditions as the opposing team or player, and follow the rules of the game. Deviating outside of these guidelines may cause others to see you as a poor sport (including your team members), and no one will want to play with you in the next game.
- Picture the future. Sometimes you’ll have to compete against a friend, family member, or loved one, and it can be hard to put that relationship aside during competition and play a good game. Tennis superstar Serena Williams chooses to focus on the future when she’s playing against family and friends. “In 10 years, it’s not going to really matter. No one is going to remember this match; no one’s going to really think about it. If so, they’re not going to be angry about it,” Serena says. Focusing on the future can help you get into the right mindset of competitive play.
- Shake hands. It is customary of many sports to shake hands with the opposing player or team after a game. Win or lose, shaking hands is a good sign of respect for the other people involved.
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