In Part Two of Sportsmanship and Gamesmanship in Youth Sports, Gary Bernstein, the CEO of the Jewish Community Alliance of Northeastern Pennsylvania, dives deeper into the importance of youth sports as it relates to gamesmanship.
To review, two terms that can be often related within sport are sportsmanship and gamesmanship. Sportsmanship frequently occurs when an athlete plays fair, follows the rules of the game, respects the judgment of the officials and treats opponents with respect.
Gamesmanship, on the other hand is when athletes use methods that are suspicious, or outwardly inappropriate but not exactly illegal, in other words, trying to gain an advantage without breaking the rules. (Helfer, 2022)
It indicates the sport or game is played with a single objective, which is to win. Gamesmanship is based on the belief that winning is the only thing that matters and the game must be won at any cost. Even if that cost includes some unethical practices such as cheating or psychologically daunting the opponent. A person who displays gamesmanship will do anything in their power to win, because to them winning is the only objective. (Oxford Dictionaries)
Most would agree cheating involves breaking the actual rules of the game with the hope of not getting caught. Whereas gamesmanship is a set of tactics that players and coaches use to gain a psychological edge on their opponent. While these tactics aren’t necessarily cheating, seeing as they don’t actually break any rules, the person on the disadvantaged side often frowns upon them.
Three Common Techniques of Gamesmanship
- Breaking the flow of an opponent’s play.
- Causing an opponent to take the game less seriously or to overthink his or her position.
- Intentionally making a “mistake” which gains an advantage over an opponent.
Think about if you were playing at the Australian Tennis Open and absolutely dominating your opponent. Then, your opponent asks for a bathroom break even if they don’t need one. They go inside into the air conditioning and cool off while you wait outside in the heat. For some players, having a moment to assess the situation like this is a bad thing. While you’re waiting, you start thinking about the heat or begin to overthink your strategy. Your opponent has had time to recollect their thoughts and is, at least mentally, back in the game.
These things happen all the time in the world of sports. Not too long ago when Jason Kidd was coaching the NBA Brooklyn Nets, he was out of timeouts with just a few seconds left on the clock. As a player was coming off the court, Kidd told the player to hit him causing his drink to spill onto the court. While the drink was being cleaned up, the Nets were able to draw up a play to try to win the game. Before anyone gets any ideas, the Nets lost that game and Kidd was fined $50,000 for his antics.
Even though acts like these aren’t illegal by any rulebook, many think that they should be for being unethical or unsportsmanlike. But are they being unsportsmanlike?
Sad Moments of Gamesmanship
- Using an example of a basketball coach out of timeouts prompting one of his players to fake an injury in order to get an injury timeout. From a strategic standpoint this might sound like a smart move, but others will argue this is a cheap move that takes advantage of a rule designed to truly help injured players, not coaches, who previously used all of their timeouts.
- If an opposing football team is especially fast, should the home team coach wet down the field ahead of time to slow down the speed of the game?
- If a baseball coach has a team that is especially good at bunting, should he build up the dirt along the baselines so that more bunts stay fair?
- If a basketball team has an especially supportive and rowdy fan base, should the coach build up the seating directly behind the hoop to distract opponents while shooting free throws?
Sport is considered a microcosm of society, meaning whatever good or bad is happening in sports usually shows up in a larger scale in society as a whole. Cheating is no exception to this. While this could mean a lot of bad things, it also means we are able to learn a lot about the moral standards of the society. As the sport environment continues to grow coupled with the instant access to information and social media presence, the drastic impact it plays in morality development continues to seep further into the societal constructs at all ages.
Throughout time, cheating in sports has caused debate and dispute. Athletes often do whatever it takes to win in competition. Some take drugs that are meant to improve their performance, such as steroids. These might make them run faster or hit a baseball harder. Athletes also sometimes cheat by purposely playing poorly or losing a game.
These and other contemporary issues pose unprecedented challenges to the integrity of organized sport. Accordingly, definitions and standards for what constitutes cheating versus fairness have never been so needed or substantial.
A Final Note
In 1889, French aristocrat and historian Baron Pierre de Coubertin laid down his plans for reviving and re-instigating the Olympic games, an event that had long faded into antiquity.
His plans were in line with his own philosophical ideals that competition itself and the very struggle to overcome one’s opponent was more important than winning.
“The important thing is not to win, but to take part,” de Coubertin famously declared.
De Coubertin’s dream of a modern Olympic games was realized seven years later with the Athens Olympics of 1896. But over 126 years later, the spirit that he so passionately promoted is often forgotten in the hunt for medals, fame and glory.
The goal of the Olympic Movement is to contribute to building a peaceful and better world by educating youth through sport practiced without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.
Do you think the goal of the Olympic movement exists in sports today?
- Helfer, B, (2022) Phone interview
- Oxford Dictionaries (Sportsmanship and Gamesmanship)