Watch any television commercial promoting an upcoming athletic competition or check out the posing photograph of a newly anointed championship team, and you’d be hard pressed to know that we still have a place for acknowledging Sportsmanship in today’s over-the-top celebratory sport culture.
WHERE TO BEGIN:
Are we shortchanging our young athletes when we teach them that in victory bravado and braggadocio trumps humility?
Don’t misunderstand me, I recognize and appreciate that there’s a place for celebration when we win. As human beings we are hardwired to derive joy from our accomplishments—as we should! However, when the new-norm is posing with one hand beside our face with our index finger standing tall clearly denoting that we are far superior to our competitors—in fact, that We are Number 1—there’s something about that message that seems not only naive, but un-acknowledging as well.
In sport, as in life, so much of what we accomplish is dependent on circumstances. A wise coach once taught me—There’s always someone who’s faster than you are—you just better hope you don’t meet them on race day! As tongue-in-cheek as this comment was meant to be, the message is clear—keep your accomplishments in perspective. Anytime we compete there are unavoidable factors that play into the results of that competition. So, when our verbal and physical language unabashedly announces to the world that we’re the best there ever was—really? In most cases, any reasonable individual would concede that if we had the power to role back time, the results of any competition could invariably be different. Therein lies the opportunity!
Teaching athletes that as much as it’s fun to celebrate our wins—learning how to show compassion and empathy towards our competitors in their loss can be equally, if not more, satisfying.
Sadly, my dad passed away a few weeks ago in his 90th year. He was a great athlete and coach, and my siblings and I had the privilege of his mentorship throughout our own athletic careers. Dad was teacher and coach at Ridley College, an independent school in Ontario, for almost 30 years. It was here that I learned to row. It was also where I was taught what some might consider an old-school sports motto—If you lose say nothing, if you win say less. Dad loved the virtue of that message and he ensured that we understood and appreciated its value, also.
As coaches, we have the opportunity to facilitate some important life-lessons and instill qualities in young people that will help set them up for a fulfilling and meaningful life. We can teach our athletes that winning doesn’t make us better people—it just simply means that on the day we happened to win. Helping our athletes understand that respectfully toning down our public celebratory antics doesn’t mean that we are unappreciative of our victory, it just means that we grasp the big-picture and that on any given day, we could have just as easily lost.
Knowing how to win and lose gracefully is an enormously important lesson and an integral part of the competitive sports experience that we, as coaches and parents, are beholden to instill in our young charges. So, the next time you have the fortune to find your team on the victor’s podium, take a moment to soak in that incredibly satisfying feeling and then remind your athletes that sticking that win, however sweet, in your competitors face will only diminish the feeling that you’ve all worked so hard to accomplish.
A guest post by Jason Dorland