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Sportsmanship – Most Critical Ethical Issue Facing Youth Sports

Sportsmanship – Most Critical Ethical Issue Facing Youth Sports

The media’s popular portrayal of professional and collegiate athletes and coaches typically highlights inappropriate, sensational, and even selfish behavior indicative of the troubling examples of acceptable sportsmanship role modeled to our youth. While these inappropriate displays of behavior and sensationalist broadcasting are not reflective of the norm within sport, one must recognize that the impact factor of these multimedia generated stories portray a misguided example for the greater sports industry, and particularly for youth. Additionally, the underwhelming amount of attention paid to examples of good sportsmanship behavior in the news and in media seems to represent a token contribution to the normal headlines promoting arrests, corruption, cheating, and fighting by athletes, spectators, parents, and lately, referees.

Recent articles (U.S. News and World Report, 2008) and editorials (Fox News, 2008), initiatives (see Sportsmanship/Foul Tracking: Empire 8, 2007; 2008; Game Environment and Sportsmanship Task Force Committee: NCAA, 2005 – present; Sportsmanship Intervention: Sun Belt Conference, 2008) and research studies (Kendall, 2004; Vermillion, Stoldt & Bass; 2009 Under Review) have sought to rationalize, pinpoint, and remediate the paradox of the lack of sportsmanship perceived, experienced, interpreted and recalled in sport at all levels of play.

Determining the root cause of the eroding culture and climate for good sportsmanship remains ambiguous. However, an unprecedented number of contributing factors may be to blame, including:

* early specialization, year round travel and training programs, maturity matching, motivational climates (intrinsic vs. extrinsic orientations by athlete and parents), psychological stress, burnout, and injury (Kontos & Malina, 2006)
* highly competitive team selection (Diaz, 2008)
* millennials + baby boomers = trophy kids (Hill, 2008)
* intercollegiate athletics’ arms race, new media, coach contract buyouts; limited policing of collegiate athletic programs (Knight Foundation Commission, 2007)
* commercialization, production, packaging and marketing of youth sports as a product rather than an experience (Marano, 2008)
* increased coaching contracts and expectations for revenue and championships

The volume and depth at which the display of unsportsmanlike conduct has been reported provides a troubling double standard for administrators; in other words play and coach like your heroes, but don’t act like them. The potentiality for societal acceptance and reproduction of these behaviors seems apparent as the normality with which it is reported and consumed continues (see PacMan Jones: L.A. Times.com, 2008; ESPN.com, 2007).

In light of the paradoxical nature of sport (Eitzen, 1999), as one that may promote positive benefits (Vail, 2005; SMG, 2005) and reap caustic consequences, it may be correct in designating sportsmanship behavior as the critical ethical issue facing youth sport today.

Therefore, the critical issue facing youth sport researchers and practitioners will be to formulate a comprehensive perspective of the contributing factors contributing to sportsmanship behavior and engage in behavior modification programs accordingly.