The recent college bowl season marked some new all time lows when it comes to football and sportsmanship. The brawls just before half at the BYU-Coastal Carolina game and the end of the game melee between Mississippi State and Tulsa are the result of the absence of sportsmanship being taught by coaches.
High school football is not exempt from sportsmanship issues. Players, parents and fans see on television unsportsmanlike acts on Saturdays and Sundays that often get played out the next week in high school games.
Sportsmanship must always start with coaches teaching it from spring practice until the very last game of the season. As we have often heard in football, "you are either teaching it or allowing it to happen."
We need a concerted effort from our coaches to bring back sportsmanship and improve the integrity of our great game. It is not an easy task.
RESPECT-IT STARTS AT HOME AND IT STARTS WITH THE HEAD COACH
Coaches must start with the concept that everyone involved in the game should respect the role of everyone else. This includes coaches of both teams, opponents, players, officials, parents and fans. This starts with coaches explaining to players from the very first day how to conduct themselves at practices and how to speak to and treat teammates and their coaches on and off the field. This could include examples of things that will not be tolerated- trash talking, late hits, profanity, bullying, etc. If such behavior occurs at practice, there should be consequences.
The head coach should also make sure his staff understands how to deal with players and parents in a respectful manner as well. This is also a part of sportsmanship. Staff disagreements should be handled in the office and not in front of the players. If respect is taught at practice and in the locker room, poor sportsmanship issues are less likely to play out in a game situation.
It is the head coach that must emphasize sportsmanship to the team and insist it occur. If he respects the opponents, the team will generally do the same. If he exhibits proper language and demeanor with the officials, it sets the tone of what is expected with everyone. If an official makes a controversial call, the head coach throwing a tantrum on the sideline usually leads to the fans getting unruly as well. However, a time out and a quiet conversation with the head official tends to keep the fans calmer and also allows the coach to get a calm, detailed explanation about what happened.
If there are parents or fans causing issues at games, either the head coach or the administration must take action to stop the behavior. This should never be done in the heat of the moment, but at some time before the next game when all the parties can come together and have a discussion. Making parents and fans understand how important sportsmanship is to the school and team can often have more effect than demands and threats.
If the head coach will make it his mission to teach sportsmanship to everyone, there will be less problems to deal with down the road. Preseason team meetings and preseason parent meetings are great times to teach everyone what sportsmanship looks like and make them understand their role.
OLD SCHOOL SPORTSMANSHIP
One idea that might help is to create an "old school sportsmanship" initiative on your team or within the entire athletic department at your school. Talk about some of the old time examples of sportsmanship such as how players acted years ago after scoring a touchdown. Show some video examples of sportsmanship from days gone by. Have a former player talk about sportsmanship when they played. These guys will be able to give some good examples of things they witnessed in their playing days both good and bad. Bring in an official to talk about sportsmanship and what they prefer to see out of players and coaches.
It is important that there be consequences to unsportsmanlike actions whether at practices or at games. The consequences should fit the act, but should be enough that the individual thinks twice about being involved again. However, when examples of good sportsmanship occur on your team, they should be celebrated and used as a teaching opportunity for all.
Part 2- Sportsmanship and Officials.