What does sportsmanship really mean

  • Published
  • By Senior Master Sgt. James Conner
  • 363rd Training Squadron
The dictionary defines sportsmanship as the face or practice of participating in sports or sport. It is also the conduct and attitude considered as befitting participants in sports, especially fair play, courtesy, striving spirit and grace in losing. The 'golden rule' for athletes is good sportsmanship. 

You demonstrate this when you show respect for yourself, teammates, opponents, coaches, officials and fans. Sportsmanship is not just reserved for athletes, it also pertains to fans, parents and cheerleaders. Sportsmanship is a style and an attitude; it can have a positive or negative influence on everyone involved. 

If you're a sports fanatic such as me, you've seen good and bad acts of sportsmanship. You've seen heavyweight boxers punch each other for 15 rounds and not have enough energy to throw a punch during the last round, but they hug and respect each other after the match. 

I have also seen beer cans and bottles thrown at players, coaches and officials at football games. I have personally witnessed the heckling and taunting by Air Force Academy cadets during college games, so now I ask myself, is this good or bad sportsmanship by future leaders. 

Recently there was an event at an intramural softball game and people were heckling both teams. In my mind it was all in good fun, but the teams didn't think so. It wasn't meant to cause any hard feelings toward anyone. However, it wasn't setting a good example for the kids or spouses that were present. We weren't living by the "excellence in all you can do" core value. 

Not only did we disgrace the senior NCO and NCO ranks, but we disgraced our squadron. This also caused our team to forfeit all remaining games for the season. More importantly, we offended and disgraced the other reams and hurt people in our military family because we were trying to be funny and doing a little friendly heckling.
After this event, I was asked what the term sportsmanship means to me. At first this was easy: it means play fair, follow the rules, respect the judgment of the referees and officials and treating your opponents with respect. 

Then, I realized it went much deeper than that. 

Good sportsmanship is critical to the success of all intramural activities. Unsportsmanship-like behavior is not only a poor reflection of an individual, but it also takes away from the enjoyment of the activity for other participants. In order to encourage proper conduct, players, coaches and fans must be held accountable for their actions.
With that being said, officials, services personnel and supervision hold the position of authority to make the difficult determination between whether or not we are practicing good sportsmanship. Their decision is final and we must respect it. 

What does it take to demonstrate good sportsmanship in real-life situations? First talk politely and courteously toward everyone, before, during and after games including your team, officials, fans and competitors. 

Second even if the other team is losing their tempers, it doesn't mean you have to. We are not professional athletes but we are military professionals. 

Third, cheer on your team with positive statements and avoid trash talking the other team. 

Fourth when officials make a call, accept it gracefully even if it goes against you. Remember the referees may not be right every time, but they are people doing their best just as you are. 

Lastly, whether you win or lose, congratulate your opponents on a game well played. 

I hope the next time you play a sport you can hold you head high after the event and look yourself in the mirror and say, "I played my best and treated everyone with respect." I know we play sports for the love of the game, but we must remember that we are all on the same team in the end.