Sportsmanship is far too overlooked in the competitive world of sports.
I have played sports my entire life, partly because I grew up with an active older brother who helped expose me to all types of sports at a very early age and was a role model. This past school year, I only played lacrosse competitively, but I have always been infatuated by virtually all competition.
Many people believe a healthy amount of competition is essential to the growth of a young person. It builds character and inspires us to do our best, but often, athletes and their parents let competition draw out the worst parts of their character. It is the duty of Christian athletes to encourage others, and always proudly represent their team and respect their opponents.
Professional athletes are not always the best example of integrity in sports. Complaining has become a recurring theme in professional sports, particularly basketball. Complaining and arguing with the calls made by the referee slows down the momentum of the game, and often causes quarreling between players and game officials.
A longtime favorite professional athlete of mine, Kawhi Leonard, with the San Antonio Spurs, is the perfect example of someone who does not complain. He is well known for his stoic attitude on the court, which has made him popular among fans, and kept him in the good graces of his competitors.
I have often found that the best way to avoid confrontation is silence. Saying nothing does not hinder the game, and it helps you avoid being antagonized by your fellow competitors, peers and game officials. It is best stated in Ecclesiastes 3:7, “there is a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak.”
Sportsmanship should extend off the field and into the bleachers.
Personally, I have heard demeaning language used by spectators at high school sporting events too often. I have also seen parents and coaches thrown out of stadiums for arguing with officials, yelling vulgar phrases at players, etc.
We as Christians should make an effort to encourage rather than degrade and focus on the positive aspects of the competition rather than the negative. Catholic High condemns all forms of heckling. The school will even go as far as to punish a student for being an obnoxious spectator. If only every sporting event punished annoying fans.
Social media, unfortunately, gives teens, including high school athletes, the confidence to speak their minds behind the safety of a screen.
Banter between rivaling schools is common and is often playful and harmless, but occasionally it is taken too far. Hurtful words online can cause even the most self-assured teenagers to second guess their confidence and begin to feel self-conscious and insecure.
Christian athletes should set the example for their teammates and opponents. If our peers know we practice good sportsmanship, they are much more likely to follow our lead, and do the same. Young people need competition, but it is important that we do not become overly competitive, or even obsessive. Most young athletes dream of one day becoming a professional athlete, but unfortunately many have a negative demeanor which serves as a bad influence to their younger fans whose minds are more easily molded.
When spectators see their team disrespecting their opponents, that tells fans they have every right to disrespect the opposing team, and the opposing fans. Fans and athletes do not just quarrel in the stadium, but more often anonymously on social media.
Because teens and adults alike feel that they are protected behind a screen, they will often say vulgar non-Christian things and believe that there are no consequences.
However, there are many young athletes who have made it their goal to spread Christian virtues while also competing at the top of their game. It is the duty of these Christian athletes to encourage others, and proudly represent their team. The joy of sport and the thrill of competition are most enjoyable at the end of a clean, hard fought game. Win or lose, doing your best, encouraging your teammates and respecting your opponent will always make you feel like a winner.
Matthew Findlay is a rising senior at Catholic High School in Little Rock. He attends Our Lady of the Holy Souls Church in Little Rock.
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