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You have heard it over and over again.
Sports teach life lessons.
Sports teach sportsmanship. Sports teach self-discipline. Sports teach fairness. Sports teach hard work.
Perseverance. Never to give up. Leadership. Integrity. Goal setting. Civility. Commitment. Build character.
To make all this happen, everyone involved has to buy into the process, starting at the top. Coaches and parents need to display the characteristics of all that is good in youth sports so the participants develop the habits and character of being a good sport.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t always occur.
Case in point. My 13-year-old grandson played in a basketball tournament recently. Each team was guaranteed three games. The parents paid for three games. His team split the first two games leading to an hour’s wait before the third and final game, which was to start at 6:50 p.m. It had already been a long day. The game was not for the championship.
Shortly before tipoff time, his team was informed the opponent was forfeiting the game because they wanted to “go watch” a football game on television.
Really? Who wanted to walk out on the commitment to the team, to the tournament, to the opponent? The players, the coaches, the parents? It doesn’t matter.
The forfeiture for no serious reason, such as illness or injury, does not live up to supporting teammates, sportsmanship, commitment or integrity. How did this situation help build character?
Knute Rockne once said “one man practicing sportsmanship is far better than a hundred teaching it.” Sportsmanship is how you act, not how well you play, revealing your true character.
Young people learn from watching others, which applies to being a good sport. According to the Institute for the Study of Youth Sports, athletes ages 10 to 18 identified five different characteristics of being a good sport:
- Committing fully to sport participation.
- Respecting the rules and officials.
- Having concern for social conventions, such as being a good loser.
- Respecting opponents.
- Avoiding having a “win-at-all-costs” mentality.
“Moral” character is where the traits are needed for ethical behavior and functioning within a society, such as integrity, respect and caring. This character development is missing in many youth sporting environments — encouraging coaches to put the development of moral character on an equal spectrum with performance character, including grit, resilience and self-discipline.
As part of their InSideOut Initiative, former NFL star Joe Ehrmann and former coach and athletics director Jody Redman said education-based athletics is about “connecting kids to caring adults and that coaches are supposed to build relationships that focus on social-emotional development with winning as a by-product.”
Too many coaches today work in a performance-driven environment. Sports does not develop character by itself and moral character does not happen accidentally. Teaching moral character happens when adults make it an important element of the sporting experience.
Winning doesn’t mean just what’s on the scoreboard, but winning in the long-term.
I am interested in knowing how you feel about what the consequences should be in the example given above. Should the forfeiting team be excluded from participating in this particular tournament in the future or other tournaments?
Nancy Justis is a former competitive swimmer and college sports information director. She is a partner with Outlier Creative Communications. Let her know what you think at email@example.com