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Sportsmanship Tip of the Months - JUNE, JULY, AUGUST

Sportsmanship is Everyone's Responsibility
 
The story goes that at one point during a game, the veteran and accomplished coach called one of his young football players aside and asked, "Do you understand what cooperation is? What a team is?" The young man nodded in the affirmative.
 
The coach added, "Do you understand that what matters is not whether we win or lose, but how we play together as a team?" The young man nodded yes.
 
"So," the coach continued, "I'm sure you know, when a penalty is called, you shouldn't argue, curse, attack the referee or call him an idiot. Do you understand all that?" Again, the young man nodded.
 
"Good," said the coach. "Now, go over there and explain all that to your mother."
 
All of us have at least one story concerning the absolute lack of sportsmanship and common civility that we have witnessed while officiating a match or game. More than once, we've probably thought why doesn't someone take care of that outburst or inappropriate behavior.
 
This brings up the burning question - just who is responsible for promoting sportsmanship during athletic events? The simple answer is that it is everyone's responsibility to promote and ensure that participants display good sportsmanship. The primary function of high school athletics is to teach young people the dimensions and ramifications of competition. These include, but are not limited to, respect for teammates and opponents, fairness, teamwork, appreciation for developed skills, as well as being gracious in victory and in defeat.
 
Coaches/players/parents/administrators
 
High school coaches are teachers, first and foremost. Usually, they know their players better than anyone. Through countless hours of practice and meetings, coaches form a unique bond with their teams. Coaches are in a tremendous position of influence with their athletes.
 
The problem is when the "heat of battle" takes over rationale and subjective behavior and emotions become over involved. This does not happen frequently, but when it does, we as officials can be a voice of reason and attempt to restore calm. On the other hand we can "add fuel to the fire," which ends up hurting everyone involved. A calming and communicative approach can usually help restore order with the coach. The vast majority of high school coaches understand the incredible influence they have on young people and want to make sure that their influence is positive. As officials, we can help facilitate this positive influence by having a calming rather than inflammatory approach with coaches who are obviously upset.
 
Athletes play better when they are under control and focused on the task at hand. Game officials can help players focus by helping create and sustaining the appropriate sporting-like environment for the game or contest. This is done by taking care of behavior that is inappropriate. When unsporting behavior occurs, it needs to be addressed at once. Often, asking teammates or the captain of the offending player's team to talk with that player works wonders. Order can be restored and peers can apply the appropriate "pressure" or leadership to ensure that the behavior ceases. Players can be a tremendous resource. Individuals are responsible for making sure that their own behavior is not outside the boundaries of sportsmanship.
 
Parents as a support for fostering sportsmanship are often the most difficult "public" to reach. During a contest, it is usually not a good idea to interact directly with parents. The only time that direct interaction needs to occur is if the parent inserts himself or herself into the contest in a manner that makes it unsafe for the participants. But, before the season begins or as requested by school personnel, your local officials group should make it known that you are available to address school groups concerning sportsmanship and the like. Parents have always been and need to continue to be the "primary" educators of their children. When parents understand this essential obligation, they typically promote and insist upon sporting behavior from their child.
 
School administrators are key to promoting sportsmanship of all participants. Effective school administrators realize the importance of good behavior from everyone involved in school activities. Athletic events are no different. One of the most effective ways to deal with inappropriate behavior, especially if it is from parents and fans, is to involve the school administrator who is responsible for the event. They can get others involved if necessary. A good school administrator understands the parameters of fairness and appropriateness. The administrator needs to take care of behavior that occurs outside the boundaries and lines of the court or field.
 
Officials
 
Usually, officials are the only unbiased participants in athletic events. Some officials are hesitant to address unsporting behavior that is exhibited by players and coaches. A good official does not disregard this obligation. We also need to model the behavior we are trying to promote. Officials need to understand the parameters of good sportsmanship and behave in a manner above reproach. A participant should never be provoked into further unsportsmanlike behavior. All too often, we see authoritarian officials backing participants into a corner. Telling a coach or a player something along the lines of, "One more word out of you I'm not going to listen to you anymore Sit down and shut up Quit your whining I'm right and you're wrong " is not modeling the behavior we expect and limits the options available to the coach or player. We can't demean, be dismissive, belittle or be antagonistic and expect sportsmanship to flourish in return. It just won't happen.
 
As officials, we are participating to ensure that the game is played within the "spirit" and intent of the rules and that participating is a positive learning experience for young student-athletes.
 
Newer officials are often hesitant to penalize unsporting behaviors. However, this is the very behavior that needs to always be addressed. If not, it escalates and the contest gets completely out of hand. Never, ever, ignore unsporting behavior. You may not formally penalize the behavior the first time it is seen, but don't ever ignore it. If it's borderline the first time, you may talk with the player, the coach, and/or a team captain to let them know that the next time it occurs, it will be penalized. After that, it's simple - if you observe the behavior, it is penalized immediately and consistently. We've all been involved with or seen games where there were an unusually large number of unsporting penalties assessed. Imagine what would have happened in that contest if those penalties were not assessed. Don't go looking for trouble, but when you run into it, deal with it. Deal with it fairly, consistently and in a manner that isn't inappropriate on your part.
 
Conclusion
 
Bottom line - if the participants are not demonstrating sportsmanship, the contest is not worth playing. We defeat the basic reason we've gathered in this setting, sometimes at great expenditure of time, effort and money. If the event does not foster positive development within the participants, then it shouldn't be played. Everyone involved with high school athletics knows this at a base level. We as officials are instrumental in ensuring that this basic principle is foremost in people's minds and that the contest is played on a "level" playing field within the spirit of the rules.
 
Source: NFHS Officials' Quarterly Spring 2007

Previous Sportsmanship Tips of the Month:
  Responsibility of Team Captains
  Characteristics of Sportsmanship
  A Game Ticket is not a License to Abuse
  Ten Commandments of Sportsmanship
  An Ounce of Prevention
  Focus on Sportsmanship
  If you were arrested for being a Good Sport...
  Sportsmanship is spelled ...
  Respect for the Game ... and Opponents
  Ten Ways to Raise a Good Sport
  Taunting
  Game Disruptions
  Sportsmanship Expectations: The Coach
 


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