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Sportsmanship's Golden Rule: Know Your Role And Stay Within It

Teaching Sportsmanship to Youth Sports Parents is Critical

Breaking the golden rule can lead to tragedy

A lot of prominent incidents involve golden rule violations. The hockey dad who killed his son's coach in 2002 because he thought the coach wasn't controlling rough play probably wasn't a total lunatic. He was, though, a guy who broke the golden rule - and he was a guy who clearly lacked the normal self-restraint that helps most of us from going too far.

As a parent he clearly tried to substitute his judgment for that of the coach's. It would be interesting to know if he had received sportsmanship education. I rather doubt that he had.

News reports of well-known people abusing officials at youth games are not uncommon. Are they nuts? Probably not! They simply broke the golden rule of sportsmanship when they were placed in a highly charged, emotionally intense environment far different than their normal environment and strayed from their role as parents: to support their child, the team and even the opposing team and players with positive cheers.

Golden rule has limits

Educating parents about the golden rule of sportsmanship can only go so far, however. The golden rule won't stop people who have bad intentions. These people can only be kept in check by a combination of game security and post-game discipline. This is the only way to handle people like the Maryland high school fans who called an opposing player a monkey in December, 2007.

And, even then, there are going to be some people who aren't going to be deterred from engaging in bad acts regardless of the security measures taken or post-incident discipline imposed. At a Yale-Harvard football game a few years ago, a Yale student put cards on each seat in the Harvard rooting sections. At halftime, the announcer had the Harvard rooting section hold up their cards. The cards spelled out, "We suck." The incident is even funnier when you realize that fans holding up cards couldn't actually tell what they were spelling out. Each fan just saw one piece of the larger message. The Harvard fans had no idea why the opposing Yale fans were telling them that they sucked.

Last year a high school student tried a similar stunt. No amount of after-the-fact discipline is likely to deter such a student because he is likely to feel that the sheer joy he got from demonstrating his cleverness outweighs any punishment he might receive for the prank. Indeed, I rather suspect that the people who meted out punishment were suppressing their laughter. I would have punished the prankster, but I, too, would have been amused by his sheer audacity and wit. That wouldn't stop me from issuing a harsh punishment, though. With the exception of the truly bad and the truly precocious, however, following the golden rule should work for most people .

Indeed, I am willing to bet that if you reviewed the incidents that occur over the course of your child's sports season in which parents, coaches, or players misbehaved, you would find that many of them would likely not have happened had everyone followed the golden rule of sportsmanship. Institute the rule, educate parents, coaches and players about and have them follow the rule, and the world of youth sports will be a better place.

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