Sportsmanship should be taught above all else

September 4, 2011 

Most of us involved in youth sports have hundreds of stories about incidents of good and bad sportsmanship. Some stem from our own experiences as players and/or coaches, while others were witnessed as spectators. Occasionally, the poorest examples make national headlines. Unfortunately, the best examples rarely do.

Usually the headlines are about players or coaches who are supposed to be playing for fun and showcasing their talents, but are instead mastering the art of arguing, throwing tantrums and sometimes even bumping officials.

This kind of behavior has to stop. And it has to stop at every level, starting with our children. If we teach kids at a young age how to be good sports, the behavior will continue as they get older -- or at least it has a better chance than if we don't teach them at all.

Teaching good sportsmanship has to be a team effort.

As the fall youth sports season gets under way, every member of every team -- players, coaches, league administrators and parents -- needs to make good sportsmanship a priority, regardless of the price in terms of wins. Expectations need to be set early, along with consequences.

Emphasis should not just be put on things players should not do, but just as much stress should be placed on ways they can demonstrate good sportsmanship. Small things like helping someone up after the play is over or making sure to shake the ref's hand after the game are important acts to teach children.

It's vital that coaches and parents be good role models for the players. It only takes one adult misbehaving to overshadow 15 others who are not.

Teaching good sportsmanship is not easy and it's not just a one-time, one-step process. It starts at the very first practice -- I always practiced the post-game handshake with my own players -- and doesn't end until the last handshake after the final game.

Sportsmanship has to be taught, modeled, reinforced and, sometimes, punished when it's poor. But if college and high school coaches can do it when their jobs depend on wins, youth sports coaches -- whose jobs usually do not -- certainly can, too.

Jon Buzby's columns appear in newspapers and magazines around the country as well as numerous websites. Email your comments to jonbuzby@hotmail.com and follow him at twitter.com/jonbuzby.

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