Think Sportsmanship

Humility may be the single most important quality in social engagement.

Sportsmanship is a word that has a theoretical value for expected conduct output, but in practicality, is much harder to define and communicate. The colloquial expression: "I know it when I see it," is not a strong enough answer for molding young minds who are observing the world for their personal development and societal maturation.

While coaching in Alaskan universities and Title 1 schools this week, the term sportsmanship arose numerous times in classes, recess, and after-school enrichment programs, thus highlighting the need for an on-going discussion beyond this article. Despite the different definitions between educators, coaches, parents, and students alike, the importance of being a 'good sport' was unanimous. A potentially dangerous and hopefully non-rhetorical question I pose, is how can we define what is an acceptable behavior to model when professional athletes that are idolized can (with sometimes consequences) throw rackets, publicly bellow in shattered emotion, and share words of vulgarity to an opponent in light of a 'game'?

Humilityis more than a virtue of being humble when winning. It also encompasses the ability to accept loss through a strong foundation of resilience. The lack of humility can be detrimental to observers and more importantly our own growth. Sportsmanship can be vastly defined dependent upon the context of use, but there is a subtle yet gold-standard of global behavior that is expected regardless of geographical location.

In chess, proper sportsmanship can be defined as little as shaking an opponents' hand at the beginning of the game and upon the finish. For some this is enough respect to receive and deliver, but there is more to the game than the touch of a strangers' hand. Over the last decade, I have experienced a lack of sportsmanship from opponents over the board slamming pieces in lost positions, leaving a game early without return or resignation, and but not limited to, refusing to shake a genuine hand. This is to not say I have never been at fault myself. We are human, but we must be accountable for our actions and the impact they have on others. Loss is hard, but losing character is even harder to face.

Growth is never a static point. I think Josh Waitzkin said it best in his book The Art of Learning: A Journey in the Pursuit of Excellence: "Instead of running from our emotions or being swept away by their initial gusts, we should learn to sit with them, become at peace with their unique flavors, and ultimately discover deep pools of inspiration. Mental resilience is arguably the most critical trait of a world-class performer, and it should be nurtured continuously.”

To understand how to be a world-class sportsman, we must first willingly accept and embrace humility.