I. Respect for Opponents


1. If participation in athletic competition is valuable, then a good opponent makes it possible for the athlete to do something valuable.

2. The opponent’s effort to beat the athlete has giving him an opportunity, has challenged him to do his best.

All athletes need opponents, or they couldn’t play the game; all athletes need good opponents who challenge them to excel, that is, well-matched opponents who give their best.  For that reason, respect for the opponent goes to the very depths of sportsmanship.


Far from taking away from the athlete’s efforts to excel, the excellence of a fairly matched opponent contributes to the athlete’s efforts; but, in addition, human excellence – whether of skill or of moral fiber – is in itself worthy of respect.

“If we think it’s worthwhile to try to achieve excellence, then the athlete should respect excellence in others.”


1. Giving Your Best Effort

Competition is only a “mutual striving for excellence” if both sides strive to win.  The athlete should give his best effort, and his opponents owe their best efforts to him.  Anything less than his best effort to win is just as disrespectful as trying to win by cheating or by disrupting your opponent’s mental state in ways that have nothing to do with the sport.

Respect for an opponent does mean disrespect for the spirit of competition.”

2. Avoiding Displays of Disrespect

I owe my opponent my best effort to win, but I should do it in a way that shows my respect for the opponent’s effort and my appreciation for the opportunity that the opponent’s effort affords me.

a. The athlete should display his seriousness about competition and about winning without displaying disrespect for his opponent.

b. The athlete should know there’s a point at which good-natured teasing turns into disrespectful taunting and trash talking.

c. “When in doubt, keep your mouth shut.”

d. As a general rule:

–     Taunting, trash talking, and other forms of behavior that exhibit a disrespect for the opponent have no place in competition, because they display a misunderstanding of the nature of competition.

3. Refraining from Gamesmanship – Psychological aspect.

a. “Gamesmanship”

Is the attempt to gain a psychological edge in a manner that is not prohibited by the rules of the game, but which is nonetheless inappropriate.  Gamesmanship shows disrespect for the opponent’s effort to play the game well, and it also shows disrespect for the spirit of fair play.

b. In general, acceptable psychological strategy consists of actions that are “part of the game” – that is, using the skills that the game calls for the put the opponent at a psychological disadvantage.  Gamesmanship consist of doing things that are not “part of the game” to disrupt the opponent’s psychological state by remarks or behavior that do not involve the skills of the game.

4. Celebrating Victory Respectfully

Celebrations of victory that show disrespect for the opponent, without whom there would be no victory to celebrate, have no place in competition.

5.     The Silver Rule

Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you.

On the other hand, we need to do our best not to misinterpret our opponent’s legitimate celebration of victory.  Simply because we wanted to win very badly doesn’t mean that our opponent’s joy over winning is an affront to us.

6.     Rituals of Respect

The post game handshake – is mandatory, not according to the rules, but by custom and tradition.

It is an opportunity to thank opponent’s for the competitive opportunity they have provided and to acknowledge their excellence.

a.  Be done properly (demanded by the coach),

b.  Look at your opponent squarely in the eye,

c.  Offer a firm handshake – not a wet noodle, and

d.  Utter one of the customary remarks – “Good game” – and say it with conviction.

II. Respect for Teammates and Team

Respect for teammates, like respect for opponents, has to do with how we treat other human beings, win or lose; but respect for teammates also has to do with the nature of a team and of a team effort to win.

The habit of respect, it must become a part of every practice, every team meeting, every game, every celebration, and every athletic banquet.

A. What is a Team?

A team is a group of individuals who agree to cooperate in order to achieve something as a team.  To a great extent, that simply means that each individual tries his or her best.  When a team truly becomes a team, in fact, it becomes impossible to speak of summing up at all.  We talk of chemistry, of gelling, of everything coming together.  We talk of intangibles – we even talk about a kind of “magic.”

B. Team Effort

The team effort is equal to the sum of the individual efforts. As part of a team effort in the fullest sense of the word, individuals become capable of more than they are capable of individually; and the team becomes capable of more than the sum of what the individuals on the team are capable of individually.

C. Showing Respect for Teammates and Team

1. Being Truthful About Abilities and Playing a Role

“Playing a Role” is of the essence of team sports.  In some sports the roles are more clearly defined by position; in others, the roles require more judgment and honesty about abilities and limits.

My obligation as a team player is to figure out how my abilities fit into the team’s complex set of talents and weaknesses.  This includes the best use of my athletic abilities and skills and the contributions of my personality, spirit, intelligence, dedication – all the intangibles of character that can enable my teammates and my team to become better.

2. Making Individual Sacrifices and Playing a Role

Respect for the team often involves some form of individual sacrifice.  In virtually every sport, players are asked to assume roles, in either a specific situation, a game, or even an entire season – not just because they have no other abilities, but because the team needs them to play those roles.

3. Emphasizing the Little Things

In every game there are players who do the “little things” that usually go unnoticed by fans and are rarely mentioned in the newspapers.  And these little things are what make possible the “big things” that do get mentioned in the newspapers.  These little things are essential for team success, and they should be pointed out and praised by coaches.  Such praise reinforces the value of team contributions and the bonds that hold the team together and make success possible.

4. Coaching and Intrasquad Competition

From a coaching stand point, respect for teammates and teams means that competition among teammates – for starting roles, more playing time, top stats – must always serve the efforts of a team to be a team.  Good competition among teammates can contribute to a team effort, but it must be done with that in mind.

5. Team Rules and Team Unity

a.   Team rules and customs can promote team spirit and team unity.  The point of the rules must be clear, namely, to promote the idea that everyone on the team is a part of the team effort and the efforts of everyone on the team must be directed toward the success of the team.

b.  The development of particular rules and customs for a particular team requires good judgment, but such judgments need to be made in light of the principle of respect teammates and team.

c. Nothing destroys team unity more than an unequal application of team rules by coaches or unequal responses to them by players.

III. Respect for Officials

Respect for officials should be one of the most obvious and least complicated components of good sportsmanship.

A. The Key to Good Sportsmanship

The key to good sportsmanship is derived from understanding the nature of what you’re doing as a participant in sport.  This holds for all participants, even those indirectly involved as fans.  The difficulty is that participants are often so caught up in the intensity of the competition that they fail to appreciate those elements of sport that would balance their momentary passion for success and victory.

Sport is both competitive and playful.  It is both important and trivial.  It depends not only on my own contributions; it also depends essentially on the contributions of my opponents, teammates, coaches, officials, and the traditions of the sport itself.

B. The Moral Education

Look at things not only from their own point of view but also from the point of view of those who are affected by their actions.

C. The Officials Perspective – a point of view

He attempts to control the game, handle the personalities, interpret the rules, reinforce the traditions, establish the “flow” of the game, and understand the psychological dynamics among the players.

D. Why Respect Officials?

1. They are part of the tacit agreement that makes the game possible.  One cannot have a sport contest without rules and the enforcement of rules; in an organized contest officials are the interpreters and enforcers of the conditions of competition.

2. Officials are guardians of the spirit of the game.  For that reason, respect for the officials is closely related to respect for the game.

3. Officials enforce not only the explicit rules but also the traditions and customs of the sport, the unwritten rules.

4. Officials are often the crucial element in a system of sanctions that ensures that the rules are followed.  As enforcers of equality they are there to preserve order.  We should respect them for preventing the breakdown of the world of playful competition into a chaotic clash of self-serving individuals wills, a “war of all against all,” a competitive situation without moral constraints.

5. Players and coaches should keep in mind that officials, by their very decision to become officials, have demonstrated a significant attachment to their particular sport.

6. We should respect officials for their excellence, their desire to be as good as they can be, their love of the game, and their essential contributions to the event in which we’re participating.

7. Respect for officials is particularly important as a defense against the loser’s tendency to complain, to blame, to whine, and not to take responsibility for defeat.  Coaches should never allow their players to make officials the scapegoats for disappointing outcomes.

E.  Showing Respect for Officials

1. The Norms of Civil Discourse

a. Respect for an official’s judgment is analogous to respect for another’s belief or opinion.

I should respect your right as an autonomous human being to make up your own mind, hold your own beliefs, and govern yourself.  But that doesn’t mean I must agree with you or think you’re always right.  As a matter of fact, if I respect you as a rational being, that is, as a being who can reflect about matters and seek good reasons for believing things, it might mean that I feel I have an obligation to respond to your position, question it, test it, and ask for the reasons for your view.  I assume that some beliefs are better than others in terms of their support, in terms of their truth; and I assume that you are interested in truth.  So I might give my own reasons in an attempt to convince you you’re mistaken.  But this should be done with a spirit of civility, that is, with an attitude of respect.  I can respect you without necessarily agreeing with or even respecting your opinion.  I can engage you in a spirited and even emotional discussion without breaking the bonds of civility.

b. Likewise, I can respond to officials by questioning and legitimately arguing with their judgments, but I should do this without personal animosity, name-calling, or invective.  I should also recognize that some judgments are more appropriately questioned than others.

2. The Silver Rule

Players, coaches, and fans should keep this simple but profound principle in mind when relating to officials.  If you would not want to be threatened, screamed at, cursed, and physically abused if you were officiating, then you should not behave in this manner.

3. The Principle of Charity

If you respond critically to someone, be sure you have interpreted the position accurately and reconstructed the best possible.