Sportsmanship: What is it? How is it defined? The answer is complicated

By Sue Moore

Mike Roy, Vicksburg High School’s athletic director (AD), is bothered by parents who think they can yell and scream at the officials and coaches, since they have paid their $5 to get into the contest. He contends that kids hate it when their parents and other adults in the audience act that way.

What they really want is support in the form of conversation that goes like this, “I loved to watch you play,” and then on to whatever else is happening that day. If parents think their kid is going to earn a college scholarship through their sport, they should think again, Roy contends. A focus on their studies will yield more and better money in the long run with many academic scholarships going untouched every year, he says.

Each year, the helicopter parent seems to get worse, the AD says. He feels that parents should let their kids take risks as it is ok to fail, otherwise, how do they learn to accept failure? If the parent is over protective and overbearing, it hurts the kid and the sport they have chosen. These are key lessons in growing up, Roy believes. A good example of parenting in sports has been Steve Hettinger, who would be what Roy calls a model parent. He is supportive of the coaches and their decisions. He lets his son Chad accept the challenges of playing multiple sports, attends all the games as does Chad’s mother, Gail. Hettinger gives back by donating his time with the youngsters and the high school sports programs, and Chad has picked up that same attitude in his teamwork, Roy says.


Let’s hear it for the parents who do it right. In many respects, consultants Brown and Miller, who are long-time coaches and administrators, say, it’s easier to be an ideal sports parent than a nightmare. “It takes less effort,” Miller says. “Sit back and enjoy.” Here’s what they recommend:

1. Cheer everybody on the team, not just your child: Parents should attend as many games as possible and be supportive, yet allow young athletes to find their own solutions. Don’t feel the need to come to their rescue at every crisis. Continue to make positive comments even when the team is struggling.

2. Model appropriate behavior: Contrary to the old saying, children do as you do, not as you say. When a parent projects poise, control and confidence, the young athlete is likely to do the same. And when a parent doesn’t dwell on a tough loss, the young athlete will be enormously appreciative.

3. Know what is suitable to discuss with the coach: The mental and physical treatment of your child is absolutely appropriate. So is seeking advice on ways to help your child improve. And if you are concerned about your child’s behavior in the team setting, bring that up with the coach. Taboo topics: Playing time, team strategy, and discussing team members other than your child.

4. Know your role: Everyone at a game is either a player, a coach, an official or a spectator. “It’s wise to choose only one of those roles at a time,” Brown says. “Some adults have the false impression that by being in a crowd, they become anonymous. People behaving poorly cannot hide.” Here’s a clue: If your child seems embarrassed by you, clean up your act.

5. Be a good listener and a great encourager: When your child is ready to talk about a game or has a question about the sport, be all ears. Then provide answers while being mindful of avoiding becoming a nightmare sports parent. Above all, be positive. Be your child’s biggest fan. “Good athletes learn better when they seek their own answers,” Brown says. And, of course, don’t be sparing with those magic words: “I love watching you play.”


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