How to Build Good Sportsmanship!

By Rick Woelfel

The dictionary defines sportsmanship as "conduct and attitude benefiting participants in sports, especially fair play, courtesy . . . and grace in losing." Officials hope every game they work takes place in a sporting atmosphere.

Recently I found myself working some Little League tournament games for the first time in many years. At that level the emphasis is, in theory at least, on sportsmanship and just plain having fun. I enjoyed the experience and so did my crewmates, many of whom, like myself, work other levels.

Sad to say, that sportsmanship emphasis doesn't always exist at higher levels. But officials can encourage sporting behavior, and that means more than our local association handing out a sportsmanship award. It means building a sportsmanlike atmosphere one building block at a time.

Build on what you're given. Often officials can sense the atmosphere around a contest before it begins. If your crew walks on the field and sees the two coaches glaring at each other from 40 paces, you might get the idea that the players will be on edge too. Prepare for that. Politely but firmly remind players that unsporting acts won't be tolerated.

If, on the other hand, the two coaches are chatting casually, it's often (though not always) true that the athletes will be at ease as well. Mutual respect goes a long way. Use it to build a smooth game.

Recognize sportsmanlike acts. If a catcher retrieves a foul ball, thank him. If a player helps an opponent up after a tackle, acknowledge it. If an attacker pulls up to avoid charging into a keeper, let her know she made a good play. It's called positive reinforcement and it works.

Talk them through it. Athletes can get caught up in the emotion of the moment. Sometimes the best way to calm them down is to appeal to their pride as athletes. If players are jawing, say something like, "You're too good to be talking like that, don't you think?" Often they'll agree and go back to playing.

Don't talk down to athletes. Sometimes athletes' complaints are real, sometimes they aren't. But your game will go much easier if you "hear them out" rather than brush them off. A player who asks a respectful question, whatever the level, deserves a courteous answer. Sometimes all players - particularly teenagers - want is to have their concern taken seriously.

Someone's watching you. It's no secret that officials are under constant scrutiny, but remember who is watching you. Athletes, particularly younger ones, see officials as authority figures. When you're around the game site, conduct yourself properly. Don't use profanity; even the most casual remark can be taken out of context. Don't use tobacco on school property. Don't drink alcohol. And even if you stop at a restaurant after the game, be careful what you say and do. You never know who's in the next booth.

Rick Woelfel is an associate editor of Philadelphia Golf Magazine and New Jersey State Golf. He umpires various levels of amateur baseball and has also worked basketball, football and softball.


    Title How to Build Good Sportsmanship
    Source Referee
    Authors Woelfel, Rick
    Vol (iss) Vol 30(3)
    Date Mar 2005
    Pages 14
    SIRC ID # S-1001566


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