If you’re into sports, you have seen it happen. You’ve probably even experienced it in some form or another: teams shaking hands after a ball game or other athletic contest; tennis players jump over the net to congratulate the opposing player on a well-played match; or soccer players giving their opponents high fives after going head-to-head for 90 minutes of play. Whatever the case may be, it seems like competitors in every sport behave this way.
These events are all part of good sportsmanship. It’s a great tradition in sports. It means playing clean and handling both victory and defeat with grace. It is class and dignity. It is a value system.
Sportsmanship means playing fair, following the rules, respecting the judgment of the officials, treating opposition players and fans with the same respect as you do your own fans and teammates.
Sportsmanship also is expected of coaches, officials, cheerleaders, fans, and parents.
I have witnessed both good and bad sportsmanship behaviors in the past and you have too. Most were good, but it seems we only hear the bad. A very recent example of outstanding sportsmanship came in an act of kindness, not on the field of play.
In early October, Tolsia High School’s fieldhouse was destroyed by fire. Athletes were without equipment, uniforms, and pads, not to mention 20+ years of game film.
Enter Magnolia Head Coach Mark Batton and Principal Kathi Schmalz, who joined with several other schools to give Tolsia some equipment to help out. Other schools, like Spring Valley, Wayne, and Hannan did likewise, as did a local sporting goods store.
The sense of loss resonated with the Blue Eagles, who not so long ago themselves, had a fieldhouse trashed by flooding waters. They responded with an act of kindness and sportsmanship one might expect from a good neighbor.
That good conduct extends to the playing field, also, as when a team with a commanding and secure lead suppresses the lust of piling on even more points against a clearly out-gunned opponent.
While coaches can’t tell players not to score, they also can show some grace with plays that will run out the clock by staying on the ground, or by “emptying the bench.” For sure, those kinds of calls are exceptionally difficult if your team is on its way to setting a record. And, often, the second string does as much damage as the starters, as we have seen this football season. They also have put two, three, and four players deep in running back positions to avoid running up the score.
I can go on and on, but I might say something that I will regret. If you’re going to win, win with class, and do not humiliate the opposing team. I know there are records to be broken, but I hope it is done with grace and honor.
We, as coaches, officials, school administrators, parents, and fans must set positive role models and insist on good sportsmanship. Good sportsmanship takes maturity and courage when you are playing hard at a sport. It is not easy to admit that you made a bad play or someone had better skills than you. In athletic competition, as in life, you may not always win. But, you can always learn something from losing. And one thing you learn is that there will always be somebody better.
Another lesson is learning respect for the abilities and contributions made by teammates, classmates, faculty members, and coaches. Respect begins inside a person. When you respect yourself, you will respect others. And they will respect you.
Actions speaks louder than words. Kids will learn faster from seeing and watching what you do than they will by what you say in any pep talk or lecture.
Thank you, Schmalz, Batton, and others who stepped up to do the right thing in helping Tolsia in a time of need. Your peers and your community are proud of you for doing the right thing.