During the summers in my small town in Southern California, "Two, Four, Six, Eight Who Do We Appreciate" was heard on every ball field, chanted by boys and girls in a huddle at the end of every softball or baseball game. Gloves were tossed in the air and hand slaps were exchanged with opponent players.
Growing up my father coached my and my sister's softball teams. He taught us to throw, catch, bat, and coach. He taught me to keep score and how to encourage a nervous pitcher. But most importantly, he instilled in us the value and necessity of good sportsmanship: no booing the opponents, no laughing at someone's expense, no gloating (although that lesson doesn't always stick when I'm winning at a board game), and to lose graciously. Losing our temper was not tolerated.
- We were expected to know the rules and follow them.
- We were expected to have practiced and be ready to do our best.
- We were expected to compete with ourselves as well as our opponents.
- We were expected to do what the team needed.
- We were expected to celebrate success no matter who succeeded.
- We were taught to offer kindness and help.
- We were taught to walk off the mound with grace when a relief pitcher was brought in.
- We were taught that our goals were not always as important as helping someone else reach theirs.
And none of these were specifically called out. His actions taught us, not a speech.
I had a strong and accurate arm (thanks, Dad), and most often played third base. I loved playing third base; it was my sweet spot. But I would also serve in right field, behind the plate, and at first base. I didn't like catching, especially when my sister was the pitcher. She was fast and it hurt my hand when the softball smacked into my glove.
But I put on the gear and squatted behind home plate when that was what the team needed; not because I could catch better than anyone else, but because I could throw runners out at 2nd base. Dad had me practice that a lot because some of the teams had fast runners who liked to steal.
We wanted to win, of course, but what was expected of us was to bring our best selves to the game and to respect our opponents and earn our win, not hope the other team fails.
Sportsmanship is foundational in my life. While I do not play sports anymore, I do lead business and non-profit teams. I am a team member, and help develop and coach teams. And what I learned from being a young athlete has served me in my life.
Sportsmanship flows well beyond the arena, the sports fields, the courts, and the pools. Sportsmanship is a developed character trait that influences how we act in all the areas of our lives.
Gary Ryan Blair of Everything counts shares this about sportsmanship:
The teaching of good sportsmanship offers an ideal opportunity for any athlete to develop life skills such as character, teamwork, honor and fair play, excellence and hard work, discipline, overcoming adversity and failure, resiliency and perseverance, joy and humility, respect, maturity, unselfishness, responsibility, goal setting, planning, citizenship and the importance of developing a competitive spirit.
These are all success and survival skills...
I love the truth that athletes bring so much to businesses, non-profits, communities, families, and schools. I love the truth that the work to become an athlete -- physically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually -- does not stop when you walk off the field.
My father died in 2008. I miss him. And his lessons guide me today. So I say "Thanks, Dad" for teaching me Sportsmanship, and the ability to recognize it in others. It has served me well.
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