I played sports all my life. For me, sports were a place to learn lessons in life. I learned about teamwork, working together, and respect for coaches and others. Many of the lessons I learned in sports I can now apply in life.
I have three sons. They have played sports since they were young. They played soccer, hockey, and football; they also ran cross country and track. As dad of my boys, it was as important to me to teach them about good sportsmanship as it was to teach them how to play the sport itself.
I have seen Mike Tyson bite off Evander Holyfield’s ear in a boxing match. I have seen John McEnroe’s temper tantrums on the tennis court. I once saw a college soccer player grab hold of an opponent’s pony tail and jerk her to the ground. These are not the best examples of good sportsmanship.
When it comes to good sportsmanship, I believe that it is my place, and every dad’s place, to teach their children. Good Sportsmanship does not just happen by accident. A good jump shot in basketball, a good slap shot in hockey, and good sportsmanship must be taught and practiced. To me, it would be unacceptable to raise my boys to be good at sports but not to be good sports.
I was at hockey camp one year where a father of one of the boys was yelling and screaming at his son throughout a game. Finally, one of the other dads walked up, put his arm around his shoulder, and gently said, “Hey, that’s your son out there.” True words. Every person on the field or rink or court is someone’s child.
I want you to envision six- year-old children at a birthday party playing “Candyland.” On your daughter’s turn she draws the card that sends her back to the Gum Drop Forest. Can you imagine yourself screaming, “No! Not the Gum Drop Forest?” Can you imagine someone else saying, “It’s only a game?”
At the heart of good sportsmanship are three key traits and behaviors that are imperative for all relationships and endeavors with others: 1) You must have a humble heart that is gracious in victory and dignified in defeat; 2) you must control your emotions and your actions; and 3) you must respect yourself, your coach, the referee, and your opponent.
We will fail from time to time and we will not act our best. This should be the exception and not the norm. Every good athlete drops the ball; we will, too. We should make no excuse or blame. We should take responsibility for your bad sportsmanship and then begin again.
I am not the best dad in the world and I am not always the best sport, either. But I am getting better at each by being part of the team with you.
Jeff Sippy, a Dad-In-Training, is the father of three young men and the husband of Cindy. He enjoys sailing every chance that he gets. He is the senior pastor at Redeemer Lutheran in Springfield, MO and can be reached for question or comment at firstname.lastname@example.org