Anyone who knows me well would never mistake me for an athlete. A brisk walk and a leisurely swim are about as athletic as I get.
I do watch sports, however, and my children and grandchildren are (or have been) involved in various athletic endeavors. I am around these activities and watch enough sports on TV to have an ongoing concern about priorities in athletics.
Two recent things come to mind. As I watch children play sports, I am impressed by their attitudes toward the game. Some really hustle. They love the game and get into it. Others are less enthusiastic and may be living out parental dreams and expectations.
In fact, some of the most negative experiences come from overly aggressive coaches and parents who forget, especially for children, that being in the game is the important thing; winning is secondary at that stage of life. Both the kids and adults should be having fun.
In a televised image, a Titans football coach made an obscene gesture either to the officials or the other team in a Sunday afternoon game. He was fined but not as much as the owner of the team was last year for making a similar gesture.
The attitude expressed is both unnecessary and unprofessional. Certainly, pro athletes are light years away from kids on the playing field, but I still like to see adults act responsibly and enjoy the game even when they are competing for the Lombardi trophy.
Who bears the responsibility for good sportsmanship? I would like to think that it is something that is modeled all along the way, but this is not true. Spectators, including parents, need to see it in practice because they often forget what is important in the heat of the moment. They need to see good sportsmanship in the players, but the players will not practice it unless their leaders – the coaches – do it. The coach sets the tone.
There are a number of coaches that I admire – Tony Dungy, for example, and Mike Singletary. I admire them not because they may be winners but because they are shaping those they coach. They model good behavior and expect their players to do so as well. Coaches who model and mold deserve our respect and our support.
Ircel Harrison is an associate with Pinnacle Leadership Associates and director of the Murfreesboro Center of Central Baptist Theological Seminary. A version of this column appeared previously on his blog.
Ircel Harrison is coaching coordinator for Pinnacle Leadership Associates and is supplemental associate professor of missional theology at Central Baptist Theological Seminary.