The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

November 30, 2012

Coaching kids is an honor; teach good sportsmanship

Point Blank


Columnist

— Whenever grandparents talk to their grandchildren, a favorite topic is “How great things were back in the day.”

Obviously, a lot of senior citizens feel this way. And according to at least one recent survey, the older we get the better we think things used to be.

The Awards and Recognition Association published a survey recently that found 63 percent of American adults believe the current state of sportsmanship is worse than when they were growing up. Just 5 percent think it is better.

You won’t have any trouble guessing which age group was the most adamant about the demise of sportsmanship, since the glorious days when they took to the ball fields and gymnasiums.

Apparently, dissatisfaction with sportsmanship increases dramatically with age, as 81 percent of Americans age 60 years or older reported that sportsmanship is worse now, compared to 70 percent of Americans age 50-59; 69 percent of those 40-49; 54 percent of those 30 to 39, and 45 percent of those 30 years or less.

Amazing, isn’t it, how the old days just seem to get better with age?

But could there be a hidden message here? Does the survey suggest there is a current need in our society to encourage good sportsmanship among athletes, coaches and parents?

According to the study, Americans overwhelmingly believe that teaching good sportsmanship to children is a parental responsibility. More than 86 percent of respondents reported that a parent is the best person to teach sportsmanship.

There’s no doubt that of all the sources of good behavior, coaching and education can’t replace what happens at home. What is more, the nearly omnipresent message that “winning is everything,” a philosophy seemingly embraced by increasing numbers of parents and coaches, makes it harder than ever for adults to teach kids that it’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game that’s important.

And it’s not surprising that the rise in bad sportsmanship — especially the outrageous behavior in college and professional sports — has resulted in a parallel increase of poor sportsmanship (e.g. trash-talking, name calling, and violence) in youth sports.

How can we instill in our children the importance of good sportsmanship and offset the “win at all costs” philosophy?

Parents, athletes and coaches can start by focusing on some key issues:

— Respect the rules of the school, teachers, coaches and administrators.

— Perform at the personal best ability level in the classroom and understand the primary importance of education.

— Support all school activities to the best of your ability.

— Promote good sportsmanship and character.

— Exemplify good behavior, appearance, and conduct at all times.

— Honor the traditions of the sport, and abide by and respect the decisions of event officials.

— Offer praise and encouraging words for all athletes, including those of opposing teams. Never openly berate, tease, or demean any child athlete, coach or referee while attending a sporting event.

— Coaches nurture good sportsmanship by modeling it at every level, making it a core goal of their work with all kids. Coaches should embody parents’ values regarding good behavior both on and off the field of play.

Coaching children is an honor and a privilege that carries with it a moral responsibility to contribute to the healthy character development of young players.

Coaches who equate “trying your best” as the definition of success — those who value, expect, and demand good sportsmanship from their players — help shape the moral, ethical and spiritual character of children.

Everybody loves a winner. But everyone hates to see a student athlete throw a temper tantrum when he/she loses a game. Being a good sport in a competitive arena doesn’t just happen.

Teaching good sportsmanship starts with some basic lessons and examples from parents.

According to one local senior citizen and former coach who reaches back to the so-called “good ol’ days” of high school and college sports, the best revenge for players who get upset about what their opponents have said or done during a game is simply to play well and ignore what was done to them.

“Most importantly,” he said, “when they’re winning, kids should never laugh, joke or make fun of other players. A gracious winner is a good sport.”

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Top o’ the morning!

— Blankenship is a columnist for The Register-Herald.

E-mail: jabbb@suddenlink.net