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Can sportsmanship make a come-back?

Verbal abuse of officials, bench-clearing brawls, trash talking, taunting, strutting and doping scandals don't teach kids many positive lessons, and some journalists have even proclaimed the end of American sport. Now, rather than bemoaning the loss, two scholars provide a timely articulation of sportsmanship's basic principles. In Sport and Character: Reclaiming the Principles of Sportsmanship (Human Kinetics, 2009), Craig Clifford, PhD, and Randolph Feezell, PhD encourage those involved in sports to practice and teach respect—for opponents, coaches, officials, teammates, and the game.

“Sport is an expression of our culture, and because of the enormous importance we attribute to it, it shapes that culture as well,” proclaims Clifford.  He further points to young people. “Where else do we have such an opportunity to connect with young people in an area they care about?” he asks.  “Why not exhort young athletes to be as good and as wise as possible when they play their games, as well as in life as a whole?”

As the authors explain, the principles of good sportsmanship do not result in specific behavioral rules. Instead, they provide the general guidelines in which participants can make good decisions.

First, Clifford and Feezell ask readers to reflect on their past experiences with questions, including the following directed toward coaches:

  1. Who are the coaches I most respect? Why do I respect them? What qualities do I most admire?
  2. How do I want to be remembered by my athletes? How will they think of me later in life? Will I have made some difference in their lives?
  3. Am I the kind of coach I would want my children to play for?
  4. Which of my former coaches do I most admire? Which of my former coaches do I least admire? Why?
  5. Do I care most about being liked or about being respected by my players? Do my players like me? Respect me? Neither? Both?

While Clifford and Feezell direct key elements of their philosophies toward coaches, they believe that anyone interested in sports has a vested interest in sportsmanship. “Whether you are involved with the world of sport as a coach, an athlete, a parent, a teacher, a minister, a school administrator or a concerned citizen, we want to challenge you to become more reflective about athletic competition,” explains Clifford. “Our goal is not to preach, but to encourage you to develop your own answer to the questions we pose. The ultimate goal of this ethical reflection is practical: It makes a difference in how you act, in how you treat others and in what kind of person you are.”

Sport and Character: Reclaiming the Principles of Sportsmanship is endorsed by the American Sport Education Program. ASEP is the leading provider of youth, high school, and elite-level sport education programs in the United States. Rooted in the philosophy of "Athletes first, winning second," ASEP has educated more than one million coaches, officials, sport administrators, parents, and athletes. For nearly 30 years, local, state, and national sport organizations have partnered with ASEP to lead the way in making sport a safe, successful, and enjoyable experience for all involved.

For more information, see Sport and Character: Reclaiming the Principles of Sportsmanship.