Merriam-Webster dictionary defines sportsmanship as, “Conduct (such as fairness, respect for one’s opponent, and graciousness in winning or losing) becoming to one participating in a sport.”
In other words, sportsmanship means being a genuine human on the field or court. A simple, “good job keeper” after you score a goal in soccer, or a, “better luck next time,” as you ferociously swat an incoming layup in a basketball game are terms of sportsmanship. This value is more than words though, as we often say, actions speak louder than words. Sportsmanship is that moment when you pick up the first baseman off the ground that you went sliding cleats up into and dust off the dirt on their back. It’s when you get your teammate, who was giving it 110% effort to claw back from a 10 point deficit, a cup of water when they get to the bench.
But sportsmanship goes far beyond the field. It’s a value that continues once you take off your cleats, or put away your glove. Sportsmanship is seen in thanking the chef who made your food, or the server who brought it to you. It’s cleaning up your room when you get home, because your parents took a total of two hours out of their day to drive round trip in the peak of traffic, just to drop you off and pick you up from school.
As a surfer, our culture ironically veers away from sportsmanship even with our “aloha spirit.” Surfing is, for the most part, a solitary sport. It’s hard to have sportsmanship when everything you do in the water is for yourself. With the increasing accessibility to the sport, surf spots become more and more crowded. Combine the solitary aspect of the sport with the crowded lineups, and you get angry locals and nasty crowds. Negative words run amuck with every stolen wave, or each extra paddle boarder. It’s a sport that has evolved away from the word sportsmanship, where respect is earned, not given. But then something amazing happens, and the reason why I love surfing. Somehow, through all the crowds and the insufficient amount of waves to please everyone, you see someone catch an amazing wave; and you sit gawking, watching them shred it like butter. Next thing you know you hear a “yeeew” come from your mouth and the people around you, smiles abound. That person paddles back out to huge congratulations and pure stoke. The “aloha spirit” stands strong, when everyone realizes that the surfing isn’t about themselves, but appreciating the ocean, and the people who share it with you. It’s that moment when sportsmanship rings through in an unsportsmanlike sport, when this core value is most true.
As the only athletic trainer at camp, I find myself in a somewhat solitary position again, where I can’t necessarily employ sportsmanship on the court. However, I am lucky in that my position allows me to visit all the sport majors, and I can witness the sportsmanship that our campers exhibit on a daily basis. I can jump into a soccer scrimmage, get nutmegged badly, and hear that camper say “better luck next time.” Or I can get a call for an injured athlete at tennis, and as I arrive I witness campers helping their fellow athlete to walk over to me. At 6 Points, our athletes have a unique opportunity to practice sportsmanship 24/7. Our Associate Director, Rachel Slaton likes to say, “win with humility, lose with pride,” which I think embodies sportsmanship perfectly. Our campers get to learn how to walk off with a win, proud, but not braggadocios; and to lose with their heads held high, learning from their mistakes and ready for the next challenge.
The beauty in sportsmanship is that it often goes unseen. People don’t remember the extra work you put in to get your team ready, or the amount of people you help off the ground. They remember the one time you got so frustrated you spiked a ball into the stands. But it’s not a value that should be seen, it’s one that should be lived all the time. People don’t always remember sportsmanship because it’s a part of who you are, not a single act you perform. That’s what we try to instill into the campers here at six points, so they can live every day, letting out a “yeeew.”