Are You a Good Sport? How Athletes (and Coaches) Can Practice Better Sportsmanship

We’ve all seen what can happen when an athlete or a coach experiences a lapse in sportsmanship. Foul language flies out their mouth; they withhold a handshake; they disrespect the ref. It’s not only unbecoming, but it can easily derail the game and spread negativity throughout the team and spectators. 

But what is sportsmanship, and how can we encourage our teammates, coaches and kids to show up with a great attitude, win or lose?


What is sportsmanship?

Sportsmanship is about being bigger than the scoreboard. It’s about facing difficulty with grace and respect rather than losing your cool to a tough play or a bad call. Sportsmanship is showing respect for teammates, coaches and referees no matter the outcome of the game.


What is unsportsmanlike behavior?

Most of us have probably seen examples of unsportsmanlike conduct during televised sporting events or even at live and in-person games. We may have even experienced it first-hand while playing sports or even been the victim of poor sportsmanship. So, what does unsportsmanlike behavior look like?

  • Taunting. Mocking other players or personnel through insults, sneering remarks or mean comments is rude and uncalled for. 
  • Walking off the field in the middle of the game. This not only looks bad, but can leave the rest of your team in the lurch. 
  • Running up the score. When your team is clearly ahead and the game is well in hand, continuing to score goals just because you can is selfish and tactless. 
  • Being a sore loser. No one wins all the time. When you can’t lose a game with grace and concede a loss, others will lose respect for you.
  • Being a bad winner. Winning is fun and energizing. Even if it’s a hard-earned win, temper the dramatic celebrations and resist the urge to throw it in the other team’s faces. 

Managing emotions in the heat of the moment

Sports can get our adrenaline pumping, and emotions can run high when we’re in the field or on the court. It’s critical to teach self-accountability. While you can’t anticipate what others will do, and can’t control someone else’s emotions, you can control your own.  

The key to managing your emotions? Take a minute before you react. When your emotions bubble up, or when another player, ref or coach gets in your face, remind yourself to take a breath, take a water break, or even call a time-out before responding. This can give you critical time to suppress those heat-of-the-moment reactions that can cause a conflict you might regret later. 


How to be a good sport

Being a good sport is about facing the game with grace and humility no matter the outcome. Instead of focusing on winning or losing, it’s about encouraging your teammates as well as your opponents. Overall, it’s about practicing mutual respect.


What are some ways to be a good sport? 

  • Try offering compliments or giving praise for a great play, even if someone scored a point on you. 
  • Respect the referees and the calls they make. Give them the benefit of the doubt — they’re probably just trying to do their best, just like you. 
  • Always shake hands after the game. It’s a great opportunity to give credit for great playing.

Overall, remember to treat others like you want to be treated. We’ve all had great wins and suffered tough losses. Sports are about so much more than winning and losing, and treating others with dignity is a lesson we can all take to heart.


Do you or someone you know need help managing their sports team or club? Sign up for a free 21-day trial today. Or check out our club and league solution, TeamSnap for Clubs and Leagues if your team is part of a larger sports organization.

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