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Sportsmanship

This past weekend, after the San Francisco 49ers had defeated the Detroit Lions in an intense NFL game, the head coaches of each team briefly met at midfield for the obligatory handshake. However, this handshake turned out to be much more than that. San Francisco had just handed Detroit their first defeat of the year, leaving both teams with a 5-1 record. San Francisco head coach, Jim Harbaugh gave Detroit head coach, Jim Schwartz a hard hand shake and a hard slap on the back as both coaches briefly interfaced after the game. Schwartz took offense to the intensity of Harbaugh’s gestures and attempted to confront Harbaugh as they left the field. Before you knew it, they had to be separated after some heated words had been exchanged. This interaction has led to some interesting commentary the past few days about whether or not coaches should shake hands after a game. I listened with interest as former Denver Bronco linebacker, Tom Jackson, stated that he did not think coaches should interact after a game, essentially because of the emotional status of both coaches. Former NFL great, Chris Carter, disagreed, stating that it was only in the interest of good sportsmanship to shake hands and move on, as both coaches were setting examples to others with their behavior. As a sport psychologist, who works with athletes at all levels of competition, I agree with Carter’s viewpoint. I have discussed this with several head coaches at youth sports, high school and college the past few days and most agree that coaches should shake hands before and after a game. Only one coach told me that he did not want to do that after a game, whether his team had won or lost, because of the emotional intensity he had expressed during the game. It is my opinion that coaches should shake hands both before and after a game. Why? Most importantly, because it is a game. Yes, at the professional level it is about winning. But, what examples are these individuals setting for coaches at lower levels of competition? Whether professional and college coaches like it or not, they are role models. Their behavior is critiqued and evaluated by fans, media, athletes and coaches at all levels. Consequently, I think they should put displaying proper sportsmanship at a high level of importance. After the game is over and you change out of your uniform, you are just as human as the person next to you.

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