By Mark Ehlers, Former Head Coach, Dubuque Hempstead (Iowa) High School
Sportsmanship is one of the most important life skills coaches can teach their athletes. It is the foundation skill of how we act before, during and after the game. This skill must be practiced when we win or lose and whether we’re happy or sad. As coaches, we hope that sportsmanship develops and matures into real life citizenship as athletes move into adulthood.
To achieve this, coaches must be passionate about the teaching and modeling of this very important life skill. Here are some suggestions on how your program can stress and promote the value of sportsmanship.
- Develop a sportsmanship section in your team handbook. Give clear expectations for coaches, players and parents. Have it approved by your athletic director.
- Meet with your staff and discuss the importance of sportsmanship. Talk about different scenarios and lay out consistent consequences for unacceptable behavior. Stress to coaches the importance of being a role model during practice and games.
- At your parent meeting, discuss the sportsmanship section of your handbook. Give your parents clear expectations for their behavior.
- Use Pep Rally’s as a way to talk about sportsmanship with the student body. Your captains can also be positive role models when they speak at the rally. Make sure the entire community knows that sportsmanship is important to you and your team.
- Talk about the expectations you have for the players behavior.
- Take time to give examples of good and bad sportsmanship.
- Never allow bad language or fighting during practice. Why? Because these are the same behaviors that can get you a 15-yard penalty and cost you a game.
- Talk about other life skills throughout practice (teamwork, 100 percent effort, positive mental attitude).
- Bring in speakers who understand the value of sportsmanship.
- Reward athletes for their positive sportsmanship behavior.
- Introduce yourself before the game. Let the officials know that sportsmanship is very important to you and your team.
- Inform the officials that you want to know of any questionable sportsmanship so that you can act immediately on it.
- Remind your athletes of the importance of proper behavior during the game.
- Concentrate on coaching, not officiating.
- Ask questions when a problem arises. Yelling at officials does not help them make better calls. The energy you use yelling can be better used coaching your team.
- Compliment the officials when they make a tough call.
- Have the training staff run water and a towel out to the officials during time outs.
- Be a positive role model for your team. Be a positive coach!
After the Game
- Shake hands with the opposing team and coach. Remind your team of proper behavior while shaking hands.
- Be composed when talking to your team. Never allow finger-pointing after a loss. Set the tone for the next week’s practice.
- Be smart when talking with the media. Stress teamwork and not individual mistakes. Compliment the opposing team and coaches.
- If possible, thank the officials for working your game. This can help set the tone for the next time that crew works your game.
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