The Death of Sportsmanship

Does the death of sportsmanship spoil a winning season at Melrose High School?

Having grown up with basketball since the 1950s, I grew to appreciate its subtleties and the impact of rules changes. The shot clock (1954) was introduced to speed up the game and increase scoring, and the lane was widened (1956) to reduce the dominance of the big man. The NBA introduced the three point shot in 1979 to open up the game. But never and nowhere did anyone repeal sportsmanship.

I watch a lot of local basketball, and I'm disappointed by the death of sportsmanship. On any given night, we watch:

  1. Taunting of players, clapping in their faces or taking the ball from them after turnovers or foul calls
  2. Trash-talking, widespread through the Middlesex League
  3. Constant bickering with referees over calls, often with demonstrative gestures (preferably with the official's back turned)
  4. Baiting referees, not handing the ball to the nearby official, but throwing the ball to a distant official
  5. A litany of cheap shots, from the wandering elbow, the forearm shiver to the back or worse


These aren't isolated incidents, rather a staple of every game for some players.

The writings of great coaches like John Wooden, Dean Smith, Pete Newell, Pete Carril and Don Meyer always include references not only to players' skill but to their character. They understood that players represent them and their university...and they sought talented players with great character.

Sportsmanship doesn't restrict creative players' self-expression. Sportsmanship doesn't mean non-competitive or 'soft'. Sportsmanship doesn't make you less of a man. Sportsmanship doesn't make you an inferior player, but a greater person.  We want to see players represent our community with pride, class, and dignity. As a community, we should demand it.

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Michelle Carson February 04, 2012 at 07:52 PM
Amen! I think good sportsmanship starts at home with parents, but it's most easily enforced by coaches. Any player that behaves as mentioned in Ron's blog should be removed from the game and spend some time on the bench. We need to teach kids that the opponent is just a kid like them, trying their best to help their team win, and they deserve respect for their efforts.
Mary Walsh February 05, 2012 at 05:09 PM
I agree with the article. Yes, good sportsmanship should start at home with parents. Yes, it should be enforced by coaches. Unfortunately, parents do not always back coaches when these decisions are made. And too many coaches now- forget these are young minds who need good, fair, leadership practiced. In general, players are no longer self disciplined. Many are distracted, coddled, and excused. This emphasis of individual crushes the ideals of team. Adults now band together in a mentality and become blind forgetting sports is an exercise for children to learn how to loose not just win. Losing -here and there - is the best teacher of all - it keeps one humble and hungry to achieve and mindful of how it feels by the other team. In this time of immediate gratification and reality tv it is tough to remember for adults to set examples that will be mirrored in the future by our young audience.
Ron Sen February 05, 2012 at 05:34 PM
It's not all about the coaching. Coaches try to enforce discipline, but what is sometimes tough love gets misinterpreted. In Charles Barkley's excellent book, he talks about giving advice to young players about professionalism AND money. He said many replied, "stop dogging me, old man, trying to keep me down." Players are variably receptive to constructive criticism. The best players desperately want to do anything to improve...coaching is a minefield. One ML coach told me he got a cell call DURING the first game of the year about playing time...


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