Teaching Sportsmanship in Rugby

The element of competition that exists in the arena of athletics is a large part of the natural beauty inherent in sports. Players and teams from opposing sides come together and engage in structured battles, until one side emerges as the winner. More important than the result, however, is the structure of those battles; specifically, it’s the agreement shared by all sides involved to compete according to the established rules, and to honor the outcome regardless of who wins or loses.

The desire to win is natural, and a vital part of the competitive identity of sports. It motivates athletes to compete as hard as possible. Recognition is due to all athletes who give it their all, no matter the team they play for, so long as they do so honorably. The following is a list of some of the more important ways to ensure the game is being played with honor.

Play Hard, Play Clean

The desire to win is usually coupled with highly charged emotions. Such emotions provide a great source of internal motivation for athletes; excitement about playing well, desire to be successful, angst at the thought of losing. However, if these emotions are not kept in check, they can boil over and act as the catalyst for an unfortunate (and usually illegal) move. This often happens during particular tense moments in a game, such as when the score is close and time is running out.

Unless it’s your first game, you know what’s legal and what’s not. The emotions that precipitate such actions are perfectly natural for competitive athletes, and just illustrate your desire to play well and win. Here are some things you can do to keep your emotions from boiling over:

  • Separate yourself from the situation: Maybe you were on the receiving end of a dirty play and feel like retaliating, or maybe you’re frustrated with your team’s lack of positive play. Whatever the case, take a moment and step back; evaluate the situation from a wide-angle perspective. Check the score and time remaining, and figure out what your team should do next. Don’t let that cheap shot deter you from what should be your main objective – winning.
  • Tune out distractions: Much easier said than done, especially if you’re playing in front of a large crowd. Opposing fans saying unkind things? Cheesy music blaring out of the PA system? Ignore it. Focus on the game, and on figuring out what you have to do to help your team be successful. A little bit of frustration can actually help you focus, but if you let it build to full-blown anger, it becomes much harder to use productively.
  • Know the consequences: Highly charged emotions can make it very difficult to think clearly, and could force you to make one tiny little mistake at a crucial moment. They can also lead you to move from playing with intensity to playing illegally, a move that could result in a penalty, hurting both you and your whole team. Your emotions belong to you, not the other way around.

Keeping a cool head will help you make better decisions, and prevent you from making a less-than-honorable move in the heat of the moment.

Respect the Game

There’s a common bond shared between players, coaches, officials, and fans of any sport: The desire to be involved in the sport itself. There are different reasons for why people enjoy sports, but those reasons don’t matter nearly as much as the fact that they all what to somehow participate in it. As a result, there’s an unspoken agreement made on all sides to respect the game, with various consequences (fines, suspensions, banishments) for those who decide not to enter into that agreement.

Respect can and should be displayed in several different ways:

  • Between players: Nowhere is it written that athletes on opposing teams have to be best friends after the game is over. However, out of a shared respect for the game, opposing players should maintain at least a basic level of respect for each other. Both sides are there to compete. After all, without opposition there would be no competition. Making a habit of cheap shots and dirty plays can earn someone an unfavorable reputation, to the point that they’re not even respected by their teammates.
  • For the officials: Like it or not, officials are required for a game to occur. Imagine the chaos if players were left to officiate themselves; more time would be spent on sorting out who supposedly did what than would actually be spent playing the game. No one agrees with every call made by the officials, but it’s important to remember that they have a very difficult and vital job to do. Not to mention that disrespecting an official can easily result in a penalty.
  • For the rituals of the game: There’s usually a set of procedures that dictate what happens immediately before and after a game. They can involve any number of different requirements, from what happens during the singing of the national anthem, to how players enter and leave the playing area. Someone may not understand, or even like, the different rituals inherent in the game. Regardless, all players are expected to abide by and participate in them. Failure to do so is disrespectful to both the game itself, and the other players involved.

Part of what makes respect such an important element is that it’s voluntary. The fact that participants can choose to be respectful speaks to the fact that they want to, even though they don’t necessarily have to. That respect is part of what makes sports great in the first place.

Done is Done

The most important element in playing with honor is in accepting the final outcome of the game.

Losing with dignity:

No one wants to lose. Ever. There are few worse feelings in the world that losing a big game. It feels terrible, knowing that you played your guts out and still came up short. But it happens. It’s very easy to be a poor loser; cursing the opposing players who “cheated” the whole game, berating the officials for calling a “lopsided” game, blaming the poor play calling of the coaches. It’s more difficult to accept the loss and acknowledge the efforts of the other team. Take a loss in stride, and use it as motivation to improve.

Winning with modesty:

Opposite to the agony of defeat is the thrill of victory. There’s nothing quite like a hard-fought victory; the sensation of knowing that all your effort paid off in the end. Again, every player in the history of the game has experienced a loss and knows how it feels. Winning players should keep this in mind; celebration is fine, and a right earned by winning, but it’s quite possible for the celebration to go too far. Also, the two teams may be required to participate in a post-game meeting, often in the form of a team-to-team handshake. Make sure such obligations are met before the focus shifts to the celebration.

Sportsmanship Matters

The honor inherent in a sporting competition is what gives it life. Without sportsmanship, the structure of a game would devolve to the point where it would essentially disappear. If there’s no structure that players agree to play by, there’s really no game. In other words, sports can’t exist for long without sportsmanship.

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