How can good sportsmanship be encouraged?

    “How can good sportsmanship be encouraged?” Ensign, Aug. 1991, 61–62

    In the past, many stakes have been plagued with sportsmanship problems during Church-sponsored athletic contests. How can good sportsmanship be encouraged?

    Val Hale, assistant to the athletic director at Brigham Young University and a member of the Cascade Third Ward, Orem Utah Stake. The key question is, What does the Lord think of poor sportsmanship in athletics? Some might argue that sports are insignificant in the eternal scheme of things and that yelling at referees or at opposing players and throwing tantrums on the field are relatively harmless acts. But the scriptures are very clear in explaining that the Lord deplores contention of any kind. He told the Nephites: “He that hath the spirit of contention is not of me, but is of the devil, who is the father of contention, and he stirreth up the hearts of men to contend with anger, one with another.” (3 Ne. 11:29.)

    The Lord certainly must be concerned about our attitudes and the unkind words we hurl at officials and others.

    Despite this growing problem in all athletics (not just Church programs), good sportsmanship can prevail if we each do our part to be good sports and to let others know that rude, un-Christlike behavior is unacceptable—especially in athletics. Following are some ideas that, when implemented, help make athletic events more enjoyable for everyone:

    1. Don’t allow teammates to behave in an unsportsmanlike manner. Peer pressure is a powerful influence and can be utilized to create a positive atmosphere at sporting events. Before each season, players should agree among themselves that they will not tolerate unsportsmanlike conduct on their team. If a player objects to a call or engages in an argument with an opponent, teammates need to express their concern to the player immediately, helping him to recognize that angry words are unacceptable.

    2. Help officials by making honor calls. Honor calls are encouraged in Church sports and ought to be more prevalent at all levels of athletics. Officials cannot see all the action at once. Such honesty takes controversy out of calls, especially close plays, and makes officiating much easier.

    3. Praise officials when they make good calls—even if they go against your team—and accept the fact that officials aren’t perfect. Every official makes mistakes, and Church officials often receive only brief basic training. Generally, officials know when they have made a bad call, but there is little that can be done to change a call once it has been made.

    4. Compliment the opposition after a good play or game. We often get so caught up in the heat of competition that we fail to acknowledge a good play by the opposition. Kind words like “Nice shot” or “Good block,” spoken to an opponent, will not hurt your team’s performance and will promote friendly competition.

    5. Don’t make excuses for poor play or losses. After a loss, players sometimes blame the defeat on anything but their own performance. Officials, scorekeepers, bad lighting, and poor equipment end up being scapegoats.

    6. Coaches must set an example of good sportsmanship. Coaches are responsible for the actions of their teams. They set the tone for the game. Coaches of youth, in particular, have a vital responsibility to teach their players the importance of good sportsmanship. The memory of a coach angrily confronting an umpire will remain with a young player much longer than the memory of the team losing the game.

    7. Make certain each contest begins with prayer. A prayer before a game has a calming influence. It helps put the game in perspective and reminds players of the need for good sportsmanship.

    8. Use properly trained officials. Church athletic officials should be called and set apart by their priesthood leaders. Adequate training must accompany the call. We need to remember that most Church officials are volunteers who are trying to do their best at a very difficult job.

    9. Don’t tolerate bad sportsmanship by friends and family members. Friends and family members can sometimes be the greatest influence for good sportsmanship. Spouses should set examples for each other of good sportsmanship at games, whether as spectators or participants. As parents, we can discourage our children from blaming others for losses or failures. We can encourage our children’s coaches not to harass officials and to be better examples for team members.

    10. Finally, cheer for your team, win or lose. Coaches and players often spend hours practicing. They deserve our warm support. We all need to take a more active role in promoting good sportsmanship in athletics. Regardless of our role—fan, player, coach, or administrator—we can make a difference if we refuse to tolerate unsportsmanlike conduct. If we do our part, Church athletics will continue to be a valuable and important tool, providing opportunities for fellowshipping and wholesome recreation.