Schools have sportsmanship expectations and guidelines that students, parents and the community need to follow that may not have been taught, reinforced or practiced for an extended amount of time due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The result of this hiatus has meant that athletic administrators may have to work harder than ever with the stakeholders in schools to understand the purpose of expectations, as well as the actual guidelines.
For example, is it OK to “boo” a call that you didn’t agree with? Is it appropriate to make noise during a serve in volleyball? Should referees be engaging directly with parents in the stands or should fans be harassing officials?
Recently, several students offered their perspective of issues dealing with sportsmanship, and they shared some great examples they have witnessed or been a part of, and suggested ideas for improving sportsmanship. Following are the questions and conversations which took place.
Question: Give an example of a time when your coach or teammate displayed unsportsmanlike behavior. How did this make you feel? How did it affect the competition?
Eric, a boys soccer player, captain and member of the school’s leadership council, shared an example of a match in which physical play escalated between a teammate and an opponent and it led to the two squaring off to fight. This resulted in his teammate being ejected which affected the entire mood of both teams, the referees and the fans. A “hostile” atmosphere was created, and it was not fun for anyone.
Matt, a football player, captain and member of the school’s leadership team, described multiple instances of when his team had gained momentum, made positive plays on offense or defense, and then a player talked back to a referee or an opponent. This transgression killed the momentum and changed the entire atmosphere of the game.
Very similar situations were detailed by a soccer player, Angela, and volleyball player, Rylie, who added: “One of my teammates cursed at a ref over a call that she didn’t agree with. In times like these, it doesn’t make the game enjoyable for me or anyone else, and by doing that, it can actually make the situation worse.” What a great perspective!
Question: Give an example of when your parent or a family member (or a friend if no family member) has displayed unsportsmanlike behavior. How did this make you feel? How did it affect the competition?
Preslee, a cheerleader who has participated in other sports as well, said: “When someone in my family is unsportsmanlike, it makes me perform worse because I am stressed over what they said or did.”
Ashlyn, a girls soccer player, said: “I was embarrassed when a family member threw his shoe at a referee, which stopped the game and resulted in his removal.”
Eric talked about when a fan yells something absurd from the crowd, it throws players, coaches and referees off, changes the mood of the game, and can also delay the game if referees or game management personnel have to take action.
Matt: “One of my friends was being unsportsmanlike to the refs and the other team by shouting at players and the calls. It affected the overall atmosphere of the game in a negative way.”
Sabrina, a cheerleader, captain and member of the school’s leadership council, described unsportsmanlike actions by a relative that resulted in that person no longer being allowed on the team.
Angela offered this perspective: “My friend yelled at a ref and received a red card. It negatively affected our team. It did not, and never does, change the ref’s mind.”
Rylie added: “We had a rowdy student section that booed and called out names and numbers of players on the other team. It was a bad representation of our school and our team, which was embarrassing.”
Question: Give an example of when you, or someone close to you (a teammate, coach, family member, school staff member, etc.) displayed positive sportsmanlike behavior above and beyond the usual. How did this make you feel? How did it affect the competition?
Eric: “After every match, no matter what the outcome and what happened on the pitch, I shake as many opponents’ hands as possible on the way to the team huddle. It makes me feel good in a way I can’t describe; it is sort of like picking up a piece of trash. I didn’t have to do it, but it feels like I did something good,” Impressive!
Matt: “During a game, one of my teammates helped an opponent stretch out since he was cramping. His actions made me proud to be on the same team.”
Sam, a football player: “The parents of two other teams made our team Chili Bowl meals which made us happy!”
Caleb, a soccer player and member of the school’s leadership team: “When our student section cheers loud and positively for our team, not against the other team, it makes the event feel lighthearted and fun.”
Preslee: “It is important to have good sportsmanship because we will all enjoy the game more and create better memories.”
Rylie: “Sportsmanship is critical because you are representing more than just yourself. You are representing your family, school and community. It is essential to represent yourself the right way to make those people proud, and to ensure the events continue to occur in order to help others learn the life skills associated with being a part of a team.”
Ashlyn: “Continue to recognize the Knight Way fan of the game by displaying great sportsmanship and spirit. It felt good to be a part of the Phoenix Rising project/ Alameda Fire Relief for teams from a rival school – Phoenix High School.”
Sam: “We should make the teams that visit us Chili Bowls!”
Last year, almost all of our athletes participated in North Valley High School’s “Phoenix Rising” project, by providing notes, blankets, food and signs of encouragement for Phoenix student-athletes in the aftermath of the devastating Alameda Fire that resulted in approximately 30 percent of their students losing their homes. This was an important step because athletes, coaches, families and the community became more aware that the opponents we compete with are human beings who deserve to be treated respectfully, just as we would hope to be treated.
The word “competition” means “to seek together, to come together, agree or be suitable.” The ultimate goal is for competitions to bring out the best in one another, to create an environment that people want to be a part of, proud of and want to continue with. As the student-athletes eloquently mentioned, sportsmanship plays a crucial role in creating that environment
Tim Sam is the athletic director at North Valley High School in Grants Pass, Oregon. He is also the Oregon NIAAA Leadership Training Institute State Coordinator, State Athletic Director Mentor Co-Coordinator and a member of the NIAAA Athletic Director Mentor Committee.