What Is Sportsmanlike Behavior?

sportsmanlike conduct

What Is Sportsmanlike Behavior?

Part of the appeal of sports is the great athletes we look up to. They can make their bodies move in ways we can only dream of, and they have the persistence to stick to their training and work through adversity to the end. The way world class athletes perform is a great metaphor for life. But what happens when the athletes we love turn out to be poor sports? That can change the game. 

Sportsmanlike conduct is as important an attribute in the athletes we choose for our role models as their physical prowess is. Seeing your hero or role model act like a sore loser can be jarring. It doesn’t look good on anyone. Improving your own sportsmanship will not only gain you respect as a competitor, but it can also improve your life in ways that might surprise you.

What does sportsmanlike conduct look like?

The first thing you need to understand is what exactly good sportsmanship and sportswomanship looks like. It’s not as simple as being able to lose without crying about it. It spans winning, losing, and the way you conduct yourself on the court.

If you want a simple sportsmanlike conduct definition, it’s this. Play fair and without favoritism, and conform to the established rules and standards of the game. Basically, don’t disrespect the game or its competitors by cheating or whining when things aren’t going your way.

Sportsmanship is about showing respect to the other athletes and acting appropriately even when we aren’t winning. We all get heated from time to time, but practicing simple principles of good sportsmanship can help you keep your head on straight.

How to improve your sportsmanship

Many of us feel that we are already good sports. That may be true, but we can always find little ways to improve our sportsmanship. Great athletes always look for ways to improve their game. The more we study and practice the basics, the more and more automatic they become.

Stay positive

The easiest way to improve your sportsmanship is simply to play with a positive attitude. Not only does positivity rub off on those around us, but it keeps us from dwelling on mistakes and questionable calls. Starting a game with a negative attitude can quickly devolve into a downward spiral of emotions that are hard to handle if the game doesn’t go our way. It’s always best to start from a positive place. And if things do start to go south, a little positivity from your teammates can help bring you out of your emotional funk, the same way your positive attitude can help set them on the right track.

Support your team

We all need to learn to lean on one another if we want to be successful in team sports. Placing blame on your teammate for missed points or defensive errors leads to distrust and miscommunications and usually leads to many more losses than the team deserves. When we see good sportsmanship examples in our teammates, it makes us all want to do better.

Don’t sweat losing

Bad sportsmanship can cause people to shudder at the thought of playing you, and not in a good way. No one wants their win spoiled because their opponent gets exceptionally upset at the loss. We all lose some of our games, and a large part of sports is learning how to deal with those losses. Losing with grace teaches us patience and perseverance and ensures we get a chance for a rematch in the future.

Don’t gloat when winning

Winning with grace is just as important as not being a sore loser. Someone who kicks their opponent when they are down casts a negative light on themself, and by extension, their teammates. Imagine the way you’d feel if you missed the shot that cost you the game. Now imagine your opponent laid into you for it after the game. 

As a simple rule of thumb, never say something to another player that you wouldn’t want them saying to you after a loss. Instead, try complementing them on something they did well. You may be surprised at how good it feels to lift their spirits.

Keep cool

Winning and losing gracefully is all about self control. Don’t let your emotions get the best of you. When we lose control of our emotions, we often make more mistakes when playing sports, and that can cause even more intense feelings. Breathe. It’s a game. Focus on your fundamentals, and your anxiety will melt away.

Play fair

The pick up games we play with our friends should be the purest and most fun forms of any sport, but the absence of a referee can lead to arguments and players taking advantage of their unique vantage point of the line. Be honest with yourself and the others playing the game. Displaying fair play rubs off on everyone else around you, and maybe allowing the other team to claim a disputed point or two will encourage them to show the same fairness when the tables are turned.

Be inclusive

Part of playing fair is allowing everyone the opportunity to play. The desire to win can keep inexperienced or less skilled players on the sidelines. If they never get to play, they never gain the experience or skills to get better. Encouraging them to play can give them a self-esteem boost and allow them to develop their skills. So, how can good players encourage those with less ability?

In racquetball, one popular variation on traditional gameplay is to have one experienced player play against two less experienced players. It’s a win-win situation because the team of two has the chance to develop their skills without getting blown out of the water, and the experienced player must find a way to step up their game to overcome the fact that they are outnumbered. Everyone gets better, and everyone has fun.

Show respect for others

Venting. Talking trash. Getting into their head. Whatever you call it, your negative comments have an effect. Trash talking is an unofficial part of sports for many people, but when you cross the line and start saying disrespectful or hurtful things, it becomes inappropriate. If you are going to talk trash in an attempt to get into your opponent’s head, make sure you keep it in the realm of fun and always keep it respectful.

End the game with a handshake

Sportsmanship doesn’t end with the final buzzer. Be gracious in victory or defeat, and shake the hands of your teammates and opponents. It can be a little easier when you win, but it takes courage to stay classy and display positivity after a defeat. Being a good sport about it will gain you lots of well-deserved respect.

Poor sports in the stands

Sportsmanlike behavior needs to be practiced by spectators of sports as well as the players. If you played sports as a kid, you probably saw a bit of unsportsmanlike conduct from a few of the parents in the stands. Treating members of either team, their fans, or the referees with disrespect won’t do anything to help the game progress in a way you’ll like, and it makes the poor sport spouting negative comments look like a real heel.

Why is good sportsmanship important?

Winning is an important validation of the time we’ve invested in training, but winning isn’t everything. Sports should be fun. Sports should help us grow. When we see someone who demonstrates great sportsmanship, it sets a good example for the rest of us. Showing respect for others, whether we win or lose keeps the game fun, and allows us to grow as both athletes and humans.

Sportsmanship quotes to memorize

I’ve laid out some ways you can improve your sportsmanship, but who am I? If you don’t want to take it from me, here are a few quick quotes that sum up sportsmanlike conduct from some world-class athletes:

“I never thought about losing, but now that it’s happened, the only thing is to do it right.” 

– Muhammad Ali

“Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence wins championships.” 

– Michael Jordan

“Sportsmanship for me is when a guy walks off the court and you really can’t tell whether he won or lost, when he carries himself with pride either way.”

– Jim Courier

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