As children grow and begin to get involved in sports,the focus of coaches and parents is usually on the basic things needed to develop skills and technique. Young basketball players learn to dribble, shoot, pass, and play defense. Children playing football learn to catch, tackle and block. With any sport, one must start at the beginning by learning the essentials and work to get better. It seems that the only thing that coaches and even parents do not stress enough is how important it is to have a good attitude and display good sportsmanship.
Whether you blame it on professional athletes and their flagrant bad behavior or heated local rivalries, the fact remains that young players don't understand what it means to be a good sport. In a recent basketball game, I witnessed the most disgusting display of bad sportsmanship from players who were just teenagers. Throughout the game, profanity, taunts, and disrespectful words echoed all through the gymnasium. It is healthy to be competitive, but there is a fine line between competitiveness and being nasty and rude. Any driven athlete wants to win and that drive is fierce on the field or on the court, but when emotions run high and fights erupt, that athlete has completely crossed the line. I must state that the most obvious and vile display of bad sportsmanship is when players use personal aspects of their opponents lives to taunt them. It is unacceptable,
I'm not sure why kids aren't learning about sportsmanship and attitude in grade school. This seems like the prime time to teach them that sports are sports and no matter how competitive, one must still be respectful. The bottom line is that in a small community, many of the players in a game at any given time can be next door neighbors or even family. It seems that attending different schools or playing for the biggest rival makes them the enemy. Young athletes need to understand that when the game is over, everything should be left on the court or on the field. Playing on opposite sides doesn't make kids enemies. It's okay to compete and do it fiercely, but an athletic event is no reason to display the kind of hatred that sickens the most dedicated sports fans.
Coaches and parents should start young athletes off right. Teach them to shake hands regardless of the outcome. Show them how to respect one another and remind them that a game, dare I say, is just a game. In fact, show these kids that sportsmanship extends into the stands and all over the gym. Fans can respect each other and coaches can do likewise. Adults must lead by example and remember that those players are kids first and athletes second.