I remember a particular spring day on the playground in elementary school when a classmate was playing a game with us and became angry, quit and stomped away. It was the first time I ever heard the words, "poor sport." It was a common tag someone "earned" who disagreed with the rules of the game (or its outcome) and they either ruined the game itself or quit the game, often leaving uneven teams - whether it was baseball, red rover or just a simple game of tag.
A boy would suffer through his team getting a real licking rather than risk being a poor sport. Unfortunately, those poor sports were usually repeatedly poor sports! Play another game, a new game or on a new day - and when their team began losing, the antics would once again begin: tantrums, complaining, yelling, pouting, blaming others and even cheating. I remember playing a game of checkers with a poor sport during fourth grade recess. I jumped 3 of my opponents checkers in one move, whereupon this student screamed, clutched the board in his two hands and snapped the board like a whip. Checkers flew everywhere, the board ripped in half while I sat there in an awed, stunned silence. Being a "good sport" was actually much more about one's character rather than their skill or talent.
I have learned some vital lessons on the playing fields about being a good sport and those same lessons have helped me in many other areas of life.
There is no "I" in "team." Sometimes you have to sacrifice an opportunity to advance yourself personally for the benefit of the teamates. A sacrifice will have a better chance to move the man into scoring position instead of attempting a base hit. A pass to a cutter to the basket for a layup has a better chance to succeed instead of shooting the ball over two defenders. A block to protect the quarterback or to open a lane for a running back will spend more energy rather than saving yourself for the next play, but it may also provide for a game-breaking play. A good sport places the advancement of the team ahead of his own statistics.
Not everyone can be the star. Actually the best teams have role players who have determined to do their job to the best of their ability. They have settled the fact that they will probably never score the winning points, but are purposed to make their position count toward the overall effectiveness of the team. Surely a team will not win consistently without talent; yet there have been many talent-laden teams which could not win consistently because they lacked the dependability which comes from strong role players. A good sport is not jealous at a teammate's success.
You can't win them all. One of the best lessons learned from sports is to get back up and try harder after defeat. Have we really become so soft emotionally that we can't keep score in youth leagues? No, the earlier children learn to handle disappointment the stronger they can become. Sometimes circumstances overrule skill and the "better man" doesn't win. What will you do when you fail? Ted Williams batted .406 in 1941, and no one has broken the .400 mark since then. Even though that accomplishment has not been matched for 71 years, the "Splendid Splinter" was still more likely to make an out than a hit every time he went to the plate. Michael Jordan has explained that his competitive fuels were ignited because he was cut from the JV basketball team. A good sport will always do his best, yet hold his head high when he loses.
It's only a game. Yes, I know, many people scoff at that notion today. Sports have become a big business - not only at the professional level, but now it has strengthened its grasp and reached its tentacles past the college level into the high school arenas as well with college recruiting, AAU leagues, scouting and all star games. And with television networks, athletic apparel, sports equipment, advertising and many other companies involved, the business is only getting bigger. But, still, it IS only a game. A good sport will remember that while he is only playing a game, more importantly, he is actually revealing his character.
I still enjoy playing games with good sports. I enjoy having good sports in church, they are much more pleasant to be with than poor sports. Not everyone can sing the solo, play the instrument or be the class teacher. But everyone can help make the entire church better by doing their part to serve, pray and witness.
America used to be a nation of good sports. That's why the poor sports stood out - they were the exception rather than the rule. But over the years, we have degenerated into a society which places way too much emphasis on winning and not near enough emphasis on how the game was played. We have created a climate perfectly adapted to producing poor sports and are running them off the assembly lines faster than The Big Three makes cars. We start early by pushing our children to excel, join travel teams, adjust the entire family schedule around the sport calendar and pressure teachers to keep our little "all-stars" eligible. It is very uncommon to find children playing sports on their own anymore - just for the love of the game. Everything has to be regulated with officials, coaches, the best uniforms and absolutely the best equipment available...all for a group of eight-year-old kids.
While it's bad enough to live in a society where poor sports are becoming the norm and not the exception; it is an even uglier sight when a coach, athletic director, or even a college president or owner is a poor sport, too. In a culture where the only objective is winning, the good sport is often derided and villified. The good sport "must not want it enough," or else he would act like the poor sports do! When the score is more important than the health of the athlete, the integrity of the institution, the safety of a community and the welfare of the common man, the "good sports" need to rise up and kick out all the "poor sports" completely out of "sports."
After all...it IS only a game...isn't it?