Sportsmanship–A Modern Guide

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At professional, collegiate and amateur levels, good sportsmanship has always been essential. As the media landscape evolves and players and coaches constantly find themselves in the spotlight, however, the need to adopt best practices for sportsmanship becomes more important than ever.
Learn how coaches and athletes in today’s sports environment can practice good sportsmanship both on and off the field.

Speaking About Competitors

When first entering the world of sports, many players’ initial exposure to the keys of good sportsmanship revolve around reacting to and speaking about competitors. No matter their level of play, athletes and coaches alike must understand that speaking positively about competitors is best for cultivating good relationships and a positive image. Those interested in sport management, in particular, should understand how important it is to practice good sportsmanship by acknowledging the positive contributions of their opponents, even if their skills seem mismatched or after a significant loss.

As Anthony Gulizia elaborates for ESPN, New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick frequently models this by praising the skills of even poorly rated teams. Not only do these comments convey good sportsmanship, but they also help create expectations for challenging matches and entertaining gameplay.

Respecting Fellow Players

While praising competitors is important for good sportsmanship, using actions and gestures to create a positive narrative around fellow players is also imperative.

For example, the end of a game might signal time for the winners to celebrate and for the losers to leave the field. However, good sportsmanship can lead to an entirely different ending to a great game. While it is normal for soccer players to shake hands and exchange jerseys after a match, Nick Dimengo writes for Bleacher Report, the latter is not quite so common in other sports. Since this exchange represents a visual sign of respect, it could enable a wider range of professional sports stars to demonstrate teamwork and exhibit good sportsmanship.

Handling Officials

For players and coaches alike, dealing with officials offers a true test of sportsmanship. Naturally, most of these interactions happen during a game or in the middle of a competition, typically when energy and adrenaline levels are high.

Since an official’s call can alter the score or completely change the direction of a game, players and coaches both tend to be invested in ensuring that any rulings are in their favor. As a general rule, accusatory words and angry gestures typically do more harm than good, and these actions can even result in more severe penalties. Those who prioritize good sportsmanship should also remember that remaining calm when dealing with officials sets a positive tone for the game and encourages respect for everyone on the field.

Interacting with Fans

The biggest sports stars often find themselves overwhelmed with attention and demands from fans. However, those who enjoy the attention and those who would prefer to avoid it should put sportsmanship first during any interaction with fans. As Bleacher Report points out, former Lakers star Kobe Bryant’s decision to set aside his ruthless reputation in order to sign mementos for fans demonstrates his investment in cultivating his fan base and prioritizing positivity.

Working with the Press

Athletes and coaches alike are often naturally inclined to focus their press conferences and interviews around their own superior performances. However, sports communication professionals often encourage their clients to highlight their positions as role models instead.

When earning a Master of Science in Sport Management degree, Adelphi University students learn key public relations and branding strategies that emphasize good sportsmanship. For example, as Leigh Steinberg writes in Forbes, athletes and sport professionals can be both good role models and great sports personalities by keeping conversations positive and promoting their community-focused initiatives.

Capitalizing on Vague Messages

Whether they are on the field or talking with the press, both coaches and athletes should remember that they do not always have to react visibly or make lengthy statements. Instead, some of the most notable figures in the industry demonstrate how offering vague messages may convey good sportsmanship better than providing specifics.

As Gulizia writes for ESPN, Coach Belichick has mastered the art of remaining vague. In many cases, the famed coach elects not to make any statements at all, while in others, he offers one-sentence answers that provide almost no insight into his thinking. Rather than providing the media with statements that they can analyze in depth, he offers vaguely positive answers confirming that his team remains focused on winning and that he plans to make decisions for the good of the team. By emphasizing positivity and team effort (and neglecting to comment on divisive topics), these vague messages effectively convey good sportsmanship.

Protecting One’s Own Image

While many athletes and coaches rely on media coverage to build their images and convey messages to sports fans, this is not the only way for those in the industry to protect their images. Today, many industry figures shape their images through their own social media profiles. This type of platform may offer coaches and players ample flexibility and transparency, but it can also become problematic if users cultivate unsportsmanlike images.

To protect their images and exhibit good sportsmanship on social media, AdWeek recommends that industry figures refrain from interacting with negative or aggressive followers. By simply ignoring these messages, sports figures can demonstrate the benefits of rising above negativity and focusing on the positive aspects of the sport. In doing so, coaches and athletes alike can also avoid harming their images, becoming involved in potentially damaging situations or generating undue backlash from fans.

While some sports figures may prefer to operate their own social media accounts, AdWeek recommends that players and coaches consult with industry experts instead. By entrusting this aspect of their image to a sport management professional, they can make sure that their social media profiles create a positive image based on good sportsmanship.

Learn More About Sport Management

For sport professionals who specialize in leading industry associations, media organizations and team relations, good sportsmanship is always necessary. Visit Adelphi University to learn how earning a sport management degree online could help aspiring sports leaders learn the keys to good sportsmanship, effective management and clear communication.