The events of recent days have sparked a renewed call for more sportsmanship in society. How do we do it, though? The solutions are fairly simple. Getting people to accept and live by them is the hard part. It’s been written in this space several times, but it bears repeating: Your opponents are not your enemies. In sports, this is largely understood. Your favorite team has a fierce rival. You want to defeat this team, but you understand the game is better when both of you are at your best. Opponents are necessary for the game to be played. Enemies are not.
We have to realize when the other team wins, it’s not because they cheated. I had to drill this into the psyche of my young athletes when I coached over a decade ago. I told my kids the other team practices hard too. The other team trains hard, eats right, watches video, and does all the things we do in order to win. Because of this, they will win their fair share of games. It’s important to understand that acknowledging the other team’s victory does not make you weak. It does not mean you wanted to win any less. It shows respect for the game you both love and for the humanity of your opponent.
A loss in any contest is not the end of the world. There is always the next game, the next series, or the next season. Embedded within sportsmanship is respect. We must respect the game, its players, fans, coaches and officials. Advancing sportsmanship in society is not rocket science, but it does require the acceptance and acknowledgment of our integrated humanity.