Encouraging Good Sport Conduct in Athletes

Jennifer J. Waldron, Ph.D.

School of Health, Physical Education, and Leisure Services
University Of Northern Iowa

Parents often enroll their child in a sport program to build the child’s character. Sport participation by itself, however, does not develop character in athletes. Just like any physical skill, athletes need to be taught positive behaviors. Coaches play a vital role in developing positive attitudes and behaviors in their athletes. Two major ways that coaches can develop good sport conduct is via positive role modeling and actively teaching good sport conduct.

What is Good Sport Conduct?

Good sport conduct or sportspersonship is the behaviors appropriate of a sport participant. Sportspersonship occurs when athletes show respect and concern to opponents, teammates, coaches, and officials. In other words, coaches should teach their athletes to “treat others, as you would like to be treated.” Sportspersonship is an important issue facing all people involved in athletics. Episodes of coaches, parents, and athletes behaving poorly at sporting events are often reported in newspapers and on television.

Examples of good sport conduct include:

  • shaking hands with opponents after a game
  • helping an opponent up after a play
  • showing concern for injured opponents
  • accepting all decisions of the referees
  • encouraging less skilled teammates
  • congratulating an excellent effort by opponents

Examples of poor sport conduct include:

  • trash talking
  • causing injury to an opponent on purpose
  • cheating
  • making fun of teammates’ effort, skill, race/ethnicity, or size
  • blaming losses on others
  • running up the score against your opponents

 Model Good Sport Conduct

There are many ways that you can teach sportspersonship to your players, but the most important way is for you to model good sport conduct.

Knute Rockne, former football coach of Notre Dame, said “One man practicing good sportsmanship is far better than 50 others preaching it.”

Young players look to their coaches as role models and are likely to observe their coaches’ behaviors. It is unlikely that athletes will be able to control their behaviors, if their coaches are unable to control their own behavior. Coaches who show respect to officials and opponents before, during, and after games can truly expect their players to do the same.
 
Examples of showing respect to officials

  • avoid calling the officials names
  • civilly question calls
  • be open to idea that the official is correct
  • put yourself in the official’s shoes

Examples of showing respect to opponents

  • give your best coaching effort
  • celebrate victory respectfully
  • engage in the pre- and post-game handshake
  • give credit to opponents

During practices and games, it is imperative that coaches remain under control during interactions with players, assistant coaches, officials, and opposing coaches. Parents observing the good sportspersonship attitude of their children’s coach will soon understand the responsibility they have to engage in good sport conduct as spectators.

Actively Teach Sportspersonship

  • Set up rules of sportspersonship or a code of conduct at the beginning of the season. Make sure to include consequences for breaking the code. These rules and consequences must apply to all athletes in all situations.
  • Expect sportspersonship during practice and competitions
  • Bring examples of the good or poor behavior of professional or college athletes to practice. Discuss the behavior of these athletes with your team.
  • Encourage athletes to reflect on their behaviors by asking them questions. One discussion format that could be used is as follows.
    1. identify the problem
    2. identify negative and positive actions
    3. identify how each action influences people involved
    4. choose best action
  • Reward athletes on your team who behave as good sports. Discipline athletes who behave as poor sports. By allowing poor sport conduct to happen on your team, you are teaching athletes that poor sport conduct is acceptable.
  • Teach athletes to be considerate of their teammates and their opponents when they win and lose.
  • Emphasize respecting opponents and officials whether they win or lose.
  • Stress the importance of sportspersonship at parent meetings.
  • Make sure your athletes know and follow the rules of the sport.

Online Resources

Institute for International Sport: National Sportsmanship Day

Michigan High School Athletic Association: Sportsmanship

Minnesota State High School League: Sportsmanship

Ohio High School Athletic Association: Sportsmanship

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