Writer’s note – I missed last Friday as I was out of country and am putting this one together a day early for vacation.

Most religions, for all of their differences, have one thing in common and this typically called “The Golden Rule”; to paraphrase, it basically states that one should ‘treat others as you want to be treated’.  I’ll not turn this into a philosophical debate about religion and various cultures – let’s go straight to sports and how I think this directly applies.

In sports, ‘The Golden Rule’ to me is sportsmanship.  How individuals and teams handle themselves, winning or losing, defines sportsmanship[check out the external links on Wikipedia for some more material on sportsmanship]

At the core of the word ‘sportsmanship’ is the word sportsman; this word is defined as a (person) who engages in sports, especially in some open-air sport, as hunting, fishing, racing, etc. or a person who exhibits qualities especially esteemed in those who engage in sports, as fairness, courtesy, good temper, etc.  Sportsmanship itself is defined as the character, practice, or skill of a sportsman or sportsmanlike conduct, as fairness, courtesy, being a cheerful loser, etc.  

To break it down even further, it is simply to treat others as you would like to be treated (Golden Rule), but to better understand it, we need to look at the stakeholders and ask ourselves (from a role perspective) the famous question WIFM (What’s in it for me?). 

Players – Players are involved as the main item of the sport, and EVERYTHING, from safety to overall experience, should be about the players.  If the players can simply play the game without concern for anything else, sportsmanship has a great chance to thrive.  While the games get increasingly more competitive as players age, the games should still be fun even at the highest level.

Coaches – In my opinion, coaches have become more of the game than is necessary.  It is hard for players to learn by mistakes and to evolve if their coaches consistently hover over every play, every mistake.  I find myself doing this as well, all too often.  My suggestion (and self-reminder) is to remember that coaching it truly teaching and to teach, coaches need to leave a long-term positive mark on the player that allows the player to be self-sustaining.  As a coach, the way you deal with players, officials and spectators needs to be approach reproach.  It is your job to consistently challenge players to become better, to question (in a professional and appropriate manner) and communicate with officials and to engage spectators in a positive manner – you are the ONLY one that has this role and it is imperative that it is done well.

Officials – The best officials are the ones that somehow get through a game without being noticed.  This is a JOB that >90% of people involved in sports absolutely WILL NOT DO.  To get through a game without being noticed, an official must do three things: 1) communicate effectively (with players, coaches and other officials); 2) understand the rules and how they are applied and WHEN and 3) to minimize errors (by knowing where to look and where to be).  I stated that good officials are often not noticed, that does not mean they are silent and do not make calls – that makes for a frustrating and potentially unsafe environment as the rules of the game are put in place to ensure safety and fair play – officials are often the only way to ensure the rules are followed.

Spectators – Notice that I did not say ‘fans’, which is short for fanatical (or sometimes maniacal).  Spectators should attend games to be entertained and to have a positive experience – any other expectation is problematic out of the gate.  I’ve written in the past about zero-tolerance for amateur sports – if spectators ascribe to the idea that the game is an event that will have a winner and a loser and that both experiences can be positive then the role of spectator will go a long way.  I think professional sports, especially given recent events, would love to implement some form of zero-tolerance and don’t think that it isn’t coming if for nothing else than to protect the players.

(A short anecdote – Once, during a soccer game, I was asked by my daughter’s coach to police some of the ‘fans’ to make sure they were saying positive and appropriate things during the game.  A mother of one of our players yelled at her daughter after a poor corner kick, commenting that the kick was “horrible”.  I went to task – I reminded the parent that we were to try to be more positive with our comments… “Sure, Coach Rick – I’ll do that.”  To which she turned around and yelled her daughter’s name, got her attention and finished with “That was POSITIVELY horrible!”  All kidding aside, I guess that you can’t win them all.)

Those are the main roles for amateur sports.  For professional sports, we’d have to talk about owners, sponsors, agents, etc.  I’ll not go there.

I tell my teams about The Golden Rule and I expect my teams, staff and parents to follow it (through zero-tolerance).  We follow the mantra ‘win with dignity, lose with class’.  In closing, I’ll share this picture that was modified and sent to me (based on a banner that we found in Brimfield, MA) by one of the parents (thanks Sue!) – It is succinct and beautiful in its simplicity


Coaches – please emphasize sportsmanship with every stakeholder.  Your players will make mistakes, YOU will make mistakes – it is how we learn, and our character is formed in how we deal with our mistakes.  As a coach, you are a teacher and are creating a lasting impression.

Remember to listen, hustle and have fun™.  And promote good sportsmanship.  Smile