This past week the Miami Heat won their second consecutive NBA championship, defeating the San Antonio Spurs in a hard fought seven game series. The competition was extremely intense and involved several players and coaches who will be headed to the Hall of Fame when their careers are over. As I watched the victory celebration that occurred after Game 7, I observed something I had rarely seen before after an extremely competitive series. As soon as the game was over, San Antonio coach Greg Popovich was hugging and congratulating Lebron James. Players and coaches from both teams were seen shaking hands and congratulating each other. Moments later, the victory celebration began at midcourt. As soon as NBA Commissioner David Stern began speaking, he immediately congratulated the San Antonio organization for their professionalism and performance in the series. After Stern spoke, Miami owner, Micky Arison, head coach, Erik Spoelstra and Lebron James also spoke and each spoke first about the classiness of the San Antonio organization, their coaches and their players. I have watched dozens of championship ceremonies in numerous sports and can never remember the victorious team initially being so congratulatory towards the losing team. The Miami organization had every reason to be talk about themselves, but I found it to be a great display of sportsmanship to be so appreciative and respectful towards the San Antonio team.
This expression made me think about so many of the events I have spoken of in this newsletter over the past few years. All too often, we hear about the poor sportsmanship behavior that is displayed by parents, coaches and athletes alike. I think the expressions of the Miami organization validate that sportsmanship does exist, even at the highest levels. As we move into the midst of summer, it made me think about sportsmanship at all levels. As a coach, do you have a sportsmanship contract that you require your athletes and parents to sign in your preseason meeting? Does it become a piece of paper that gets filed away? Or, is it something you emphasize consistently throughout the season? What do you do as a coach when an athlete or parent displays poor sportsmanship? Are there consequences for poor behavior and are there rewards for appropriate displays of sportsmanship on your team? How do you handle losing, as well as winning? Do you encourage your athletes to shake hands with the other team as well as with the officials/referees who worked the game? I believe all of these issues are pertinent to teaching and coaching young athletes to be successful on and off the athletic field.
I have discussed many topics since I began writing this newsletter several years ago. Whether it be how to build or destroy an athlete’s confidence, developing the ability to focus under pressure, learn how to mentally prepare for competition or to be a positive role model, I believe teaching and reinforcing good sportsmanship may be the most important issue you can impact young athletes about. Have a plan for your season that begins with the preseason meeting and reinforce the values of sportsmanship throughout the year. Have a game plan for how you will deal with a team member or parent who displays poor sportsmanship. Don’t be afraid to discipline a team member, no matter how good they are if they don’t follow the guidelines that have been set up. The score at the end of the game will be important, but the way your athletes display themselves will be remembered for a long time. As always, I look forward to your comments.