We often equate sportsmanship with the ability to be gracious in defeat. This is definitely one of the cornerstones of sportsmanship but it need not be the only measure. In fact, sometimes it’s very difficult to be gracious when someone has just kicked your ass. To be truly gracious requires a level of consciousness that may be beyond reach when emotion and ego are fully charged. As hard as it may be it’s still an incredibly important virtue to strive for and in the immediate aftermath of a loss you must do your best to respect your opponents victory.
But to be clear, you don’t have to be a great loser to qualify as a good sport. And you most certainly don’t have to be non competitive or a pushover, in fact, these two things contradict the very nature of competitive sport. Being a good sport can mean being extremely competitive because it honors the spirit of competitive sport.
The worst offense to sportsmanship is when you occupy a state of false grace in order to seem like a good sport. False grace is easy to detect because it is usually rife with excuses.
Sportsmanship is like any other skill. It often requires a conscious effort and regular practice to improve. It’s not necessarily human nature to be a bad sport but it is a very strong function of our egos to act poorly in defeat. Like so many things, awareness is the gateway to improvement and an understanding of what true sportsmanship entails. Here are three things you can do to be a better sport.
1. Try your best
Trying your best honors the very heart of what sport should be- the opportunity to see how good you can be independent of any outcome. Trying your best in every moment might seem obvious and might even seem a bit cliché but often our energy for the moment can depend on external factors like the score or our placing at that moment. To be a truly good sport your effort should not reflect an external factor but instead should be a reflection of your internal drive to simply be as good as you personally can be.
2. Develop a detached appreciation for your opponent
One of the best things you can do to be a better sport is to develop a detached appreciation for your opponent. Detached from the standpoint that you are still able to appreciate their ability even if they are beating you. You don’t have to like getting your butt kicked but you can appreciate the skill involved in doing so. You can appreciate the ability of your opponent without the negative emotion that can come with it when you are losing. You can appreciate skill or strategy for the sake of itself even if it is not coming from you.
3. Learn rather than dwell
It’s easy to dwell on a bad performance. It’s harder to look at it from a distance and learn from it. Dwelling on it is a function of the ego and the ego loves to spend time rehashing and complaining about an outcome. Dwelling means spending time in the past simply for the sake of feeding an ego that has an insatiable appetite for self-loathing. Learning requires that you create mental space from the negative emotion that comes with a loss. Learning requires that you look at the outcome constructively and for the purpose of growth.
So yes, be gracious in defeat and work on that throughout your life but also remember that sportsmanship is a reflection of effort, appreciation and respect for your opponents abilities and your ability to learn rather than dwell. Work on sportsmanship like you would any other muscle.