Coaches Corner: Sportsmanship and the Swimmer
Sportsmanship is defined as “conduct becoming to an athlete; including fairness, respect for one’s opponent, and graciousness in winning or losing”. Sportsmanship is one of those things that parents hope kids learn when they sign their child up for a sport. Sport being a microcosm of society, the attitudes you learn as an athlete get carried over into the rest of your life, for the rest of your life. But what does that look like as a swimmer?
Let’s start at the end and work backwards; graciousness in winning or losing. Swimmers are particularly good at this one. You seldom if ever see a swimmer throw a temper tantrum, or do a weird victory dance. The athletes in this region often demonstrate graciousness in winning when accepting medals by pulling the silver and bronze winners up to share the gold podium for photographs. But being gracious isn’t just not being a jerk, it’s also learning to persevere in your training, even when your times are not improving. It’s being able to celebrate your team mates’ success even you aren’t doing as well as you hoped. It’s continuing to swim, and be proud of your personal accomplishments and improvements even when you are always and forever overshadowed by that kid the same age as you who is ALWAYS faster than you and wins all the medals.
Next is respect for one’s opponent. I would say we should probably include team mates, coaches and officials in there along with opponents in that definition. Showing respect to the people you race against in a meet, well that’s fairly easy. Listening to the officials, and being where you’re supposed to be when you’re supposed to be there is also pretty easy once you get the hang of it. But what does respect look like in Practice, which, let’s face it, is where we spend most of our time? Showing respect to your coach and team mates includes things like showing up to practice on time. Having all your gear ready to go. Listening so that you know what you’re supposed to be doing. Leaving the wall on time, staying on pace, putting effort in to do each set properly. Not interrupting practice. Staying on your side of the lane so everyone can swim uninterrupted. Passing quickly so no one has to stop.
How about fairness? What does that look like to a swimmer? Well, cheating in a race is all but impossible as a swimmer, but let’s look at fairness overall. Fairness is letting everyone have a turn. Fairness is allowing everyone on your team a time to shine. Fairness is being welcoming, so everyone feels like they belong. As a classroom teacher, I heard a lot from my students about being “fair”, and so I came up with a working definition for my classroom that I think applies just as much in the pool and on deck; fair does not mean everybody gets the same, fair means that everybody gets what they need. Some people need more time, more help. Some people need more private, quiet encouragement. There is always going to be somebody who learns really fast, and somebody who needs more practice to be successful. Progress doesn’t always happen smoothly, it often moves in fits and starts. It’s really, REALLY hard to progress at something difficult when you’re scared and nervous. Having been a beginner at many, many things, I can tell you that having supportive team mates makes learning and mastering anything, whether it’s swimming or snowboarding or calculus, so much easier. And more fun. So be fair to your team mates; let them get the attention they need from the coach and the support they need from you.