A recent question I’ve been pondering is, “Is sportsmanship dead? Because I work in collegiate recreation, I’m surrounded by a culture of sport and leisure on a daily basis. Sports culture inspires me to work in this field and is one of the main motivators for pursuing a career in collegiate recreation. I have always had a passion for sports and enjoy each aspect of competition. Therefore, it was a natural fit to take up an on-campus job in college as an intramural sports official. When I started officiating, I enjoyed it and learned something from each shift I worked. My job as an intramural sports official transitioned into additional opportunities within officiating and other job positions.
As I have matured as a professional in the field, I have seen collegiate recreation and officiating evolve. As innovations have improved the overall quality of officiating, there continues to be habitual poor behavior in competition. This is not limited to intramural sports in collegiate recreation as poor sportsmanship spans from youth leagues to professional sports. As I have witnessed poor behavior from fans to parents to coaches to players in various levels of sports, it got me to thinking, is sportsmanship dead?
When examining the question, I first look to a lack of self-control. Poor behavior in competition often results from a lack of control. In sports there are a few components of a game that a participant cannot control. The main ones that come to mind are weather, bad bounces and officiating. Therefore, when one of these occurrences takes place it can test the self-control of a participant.
I have observed this first-hand in recent history, as I have taken up a part-time job as an official in adult sport and social leagues. Since moving to Atlanta, I have not officiated high school sports due to travel constraints. However, I have stayed involved in officiating through various recreational leagues. I started the job with the adult league in February and have officiated various sports including kickball, dodgeball and basketball. I call it “post-grad intramurals” because the structure of the league is like collegiate intramurals. However, the big difference is sportsmanship.
One of the great things about intramural sports is an emphasis placed on sportsmanship and the sportsmanship rating system that many programs adopt. This system puts accountability on participant behavior and can affect a team advancing to the playoffs. Conversely, there is not a sportsmanship rating in this adult sport league, and I have not encountered a youth or adult recreational league that has a sportsmanship rating system either. I believe placing a systemic approach on sportsmanship, at least in the recreational league level, would lessen sportsmanship issues.
In the adult league I currently officiate, the sportsmanship issues are numerous and there are quite a bit of unruly participants. Often even when the behavior is addressed, the participant marginalizes or make excuses for their behavior. I believe this stems from an entitled mindset, a controlling position from their work atmosphere, and the mentality that part of the officiating job is to accept lobbying and verbal abuse.
One of the current trends in collegiate recreation is multiple components of well-being offered to students. NIRSA has identified eight components of well-being. Collegiate recreation has transformed over the years from offering more than just physical wellness. Collegiate recreation continues to offer outlets for physical activity, but facilities, services and programs have enhanced in their offerings to cover multiple facets of well-being. The total well-being offered in college recreation has stemmed from student development. It is through a student’s involvement in collegiate recreation offerings that has provided multiple levels of development and benefits.
Sportsmanship in collegiate recreation taps into the physical, spiritual and emotional components, which prominently has a role in the participation of intramural and club sports. Intramural and club sports provide opportunities outside of the classroom to improve physical well-being. Physical exercise also increases emotional well-being providing de-stressors for one’s mental wellness.
However, this can be counteractive when participants display poor sportsmanship in intramural and club sport competition. Bad sportsmanship reflects negative character and values which results in poor spiritual or emotional well-being. Poor sportsmanship also provides added stress for their peers, especially in intramural sports where games are predominantly officiated by students. This furthers the point that having a high emphasis on sportsmanship is important for the foundation of the student and their total well-being. As a result, it is key for administrators in the field to address sportsmanship issues and hold students accountable for poor behavior. The participant should learn and evolve from the mistake to be used as a teaching tool for their future endeavors.
In fully examining the question of “Is sportsmanship dead?” I looked at all levels of competition. I believe poor sportsmanship and lack of respect for officials has trickled down from the professional level. This trickledown effect has led to a negative impact in the amateur levels. One of the main effects of this negative impact is a shortage of officials spanning recreational levels and high school sports. Here is a report earlier this year from Today, about the shortage of officials nationwide. The reason for this shortage of officials is mainly due to the verbal and physical assault cases. There have been various incidents of verbal and physical assault from coaches, parents and participants toward officials. Because of this, the negative results can outweigh the positive benefits of officiating.
I believe negative behavior in amateur levels has worsened over the years due to heighten access to sports programming. In today’s world, we have access to stream and watch an abundant amount of sports. With the ability to watch more games, fans are able to observe all levels of emotion that go into a high-level of competition. Therefore, it is natural to think it is all just part of the game when players and coaches exhibit negative behavior toward officials. Additionally, broadcasters provide constant commentary of the official’s performance.
As a result, there has been a perfection mindset developed for officials in which errors by officials are viewed under a microscope and exaggerated to excuse negative player behavior. The reality is, competition is played, managed and officiated by people, and human error will exist in each component.
Sport and competition is meant to be a fun and thrilling experience. In fact, watching live sports is my favorite type of TV programming. However, seeing a player on TV intimidate an official, or reading a story about a parent assaulting an official, takes away from my appreciation of sport. As years pass, we often forget about wins and losses, but poor behavior is often remembered. Sportsmanship matters. Therefore, I continue to ask, is sportsmanship dead?