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The impact of sportsmanship and gamesmanship.

Author Jason Schaitz wrote an article titled, “8 Goals for Youth Sports Programs” in the November/December issue of Community Rec Magazine. This article will focus more in-depth with respect to his sixth goal Sportsmanship.

Sport has continued to permeate deep into the fabric of society, and provide an opportunity to institutionalize further morals, values and ethics necessary for building and maintaining a positive society. Sport also has the power to provide an audience for behavior that can teach negative lessons and leaving lasting marks.

Sportsmanship and gamesmanship are two fundamental components necessary for learning life skills and lessons through the sport platform. It’s important to analyze what the terms mean, how they are applied, and specific scenarios that have impacted individuals and groups both positively and negatively.

Without the appropriate understanding of what good sportsmanship and gamesmanship looks like, cheating, greed and other negative aspects of sport will continue to cloud an environment that has a tremendous opportunity to educate and instigate positive social change.

Is it asking too much for today’s young athletes to start practicing that hopelessly dated virtue known as sportsmanship?

Can you visualize a game in which athletes are humble in victory, respectful of their opponents, and modest when they make a good play? Where there is no taunting, dancing, chest thumping or posturing for the cameras?

Incredible isn’t it? Parents and spectators sit, watch and say little, maybe because they are fearful of being accused of being “old school,” “out of touch” or “not cool.”

Two terms 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 is when athletes use methods that are suspicious, or outwardly inappropriate but not exactingly illegal, in other words, trying to gain an advantage without breaking the rules.

Defining Sportsmanship

Some people define good sportsmanship as the “golden rule” of sports. In other words, treating the people you play with and against as you’d like to be treated yourself. You demonstrate good sportsmanship when you show respect for yourself, your teammates, and your opponents, for the coaches on both sides, and for the referees, judges and other officials.

Sportsmanship is defined by Merriam-Webster as “fair play, respect for opponents, and polite behavior by someone who is competing in a sport or other competition.”

What this means is that it doesn’t matter what the outcome of the game is, it is about the person or people you are competing against are also human and deserve to be shown the same respect you would show them outside of sport. This goes for both winning and losing.

Skills developed by sport participation are integral for individual long-term success, but sport participation with a focus on the development of good sportsmanship behavior can positively impact the future of society. Learning the impact of sportsmanship helps prepare students to continue to work with others and understand the impact of their actions.

As stated on the Decatur Parks & Recreation home page in Decatur, Alabama, “sportsmanship must center on three vital life skill components of Respect, Losing with Dignity, and Winning with Humility, that make up the educational framework for instilling a full understanding of the importance of this practice.”

“Sportsmanship is the inherent quality in playing a game in which one is honor-bound to follow the spirit and letter of the rules.” (Helfer, 2021)

Sportsmanship helps coaches and athletes to prevent unethical decisions, which could relate to cheating, lying or even violent acts.

“Coaching children is an honor and a privilege that carries with it a moral responsibility to contribute to the healthy character development of young players. Coaches who equate ‘trying your best’ as the definition of success, and who value, expect and demand good sportsmanship from their players help shape the moral, ethical and spiritual character of children.” (Helfer, 2021)

It is not something that is unique to one sport or even to one level of sport. From pee wee to the big leagues, you can find a great show of sportsmanship almost every time there is a competition. Whether it be a basketball team allowing a kid with special needs start on their senior night or an opponent who helps someone round the bases even if it may cost them the game, good sportsmanship is everywhere. Good sportsmanship has been exhibited at all levels of sport, and athletes have continuously placed the sanctity of human relationships and the golden rule at the forefront during competition.

This display of sportsmanship was exhibited during the 2012 Ohio High School State Track Championships when Meghan Vogel, a 17-year-old junior from West Liberty Salem High School “caught up to a fellow competitor whose body was giving out.” Meghan put Arlington High School sophomore Arden McMath’s arm around her shoulders and ensured she made it the 30 meters to the finish line.

In the collegiate environment, no better example comes to mind than the actions of Central Washington softball pitcher Mallory Holtman. In an important conference match versus Western Oregon, Holtman gave up a home run to senior outfielder Sara Tucholsky. Due to the excitement of this event being her first career home run, Tucholsky forgot to touch first base, and when she reversed directions to start again, her knee gave out. Although the official misinterpreted an NCAA rule when explaining to the Western Oregon coach that if Tucholsky “received assistance from a coach or trainer while being an active runner, she would be called out.” Holtman and another Central Washington teammate proceeded to pick up Tucholsky, and carry her around the bases. “I think anyone who knew that we could touch her would have offered to do it, just because it’s the right thing to do.” (Prince, 2008)

Poor sportsmanship is also shown from time to time. This was evident in the fall of 2015 when two football players at John Jay High School in Texas completed a targeted hit on an official in the defensive backfield during their game. This targeted attack was instigated by a comment from their assistant coach during the game.

Fans can also show poor sportsmanship by saying inappropriate comments to players and officials. There are many times when fans verbally abuse officials by having to hear about bad calls or being accused of favoritism. This issue is extremely prevalent at the interscholastic level.

High School athletic directors often spend enormous amounts of time alongside their coaches educating their student athletes on appropriate sportsmanship and the expectations placed upon them as members of their respective athletic programs. It can be extremely hard to consistently build that understanding when parents show a different version of sporting behavior at game time. Schools will continue to build comprehensive sportsmanship programs, and must include parents into the equation as well.

Former Division 1 athlete and assistant athletic director at Louisville Collegiate School, Stephanie Seeley competed in various sports at various levels. She believes that, “Sportsmanship means respecting the effort and preparation in your opponent by playing the game with integrity and intention. Athletes can only control their effort and attitude through preparation. The outcome is a result of both.”

Sport is often referred to as a universal language that can break down many cultural barriers, so it is imperative that we continually make ourselves aware of the impact sportsmanship and gamesmanship can have on much more than the end score result.

Part Two of this article will address the topic of gamesmanship.



Helfer, B. (2021) Interview conducted over the phone.

Prince, S. (2008) Softball opponents offer unique display of sportsmanship. The Oregonian.

Gary Bernstein

Gary Bernstein currently serves as CEO of the Jewish Community Alliance of Northeastern Pennsylvania and an Advisory Board Member of Community Rec Magazine. Gary Bernstein has proudly authored the textbook, "The Fundamentals of Sports Marketing" with Sagamore Publishing and "Nonprofit Sport and Recreation Programs: Principles and Practices of Leadership and Management" by Sentia Publishers. For more information, call 757.667.0293 or email gary.bernstein@nepajca.org.

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