Sportsmanship: It Truly Is What It’s All About | Ken Reed

Source: Sportsmanship: It Truly Is What It’s All About | Ken Reed

As a teenager, I remember my parents and coaches, on several occasions, telling me how important sportsmanship was. I recall hearing them paraphrase the old Grantland Rice quote, “It’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game.”

I would nod, give a cursory “Yeah, it’s important” and quickly get back to the business of being a self-absorbed teenager. It’s not that I disagreed with them about the importance of sportsmanship, it’s just that I couldn’t really grasp how it could be the most important thing. There were games to win, championships to seek, points to score and All-Star teams to try and make.

Today, I get it. I’m convinced that how you play the game is the most important thing in sports — above and beyond all team and individual accomplishments and awards.

I believe that no matter how long your sports career lasts, whether it ends after Little League, or after winning the Super Bowl, what you will most be remembered for is what kind of competitor you were, what kind of teammate you were, and whether or not you respected the game. In short, whether you were a good sport or a bad sport.

Consider the cases of two baseball Hall of Famers, Ty Cobb and Harmon Killebrew. Both were great players but both probably are better known for how they played the game and carried themselves on and off the field.

Cobb played with anger on the field, regularly sliding into opponents with his spikes up. He was a well-known racist who was disliked by opponents and teammates alike.

“I think if I had my life to live over again, I’d do things a little different,” said Cobb, near the end of his life. “I was aggressive, perhaps too aggressive. Maybe I went too far. I always had to be right in any argument I was in, I always had to be first in everything. I do indeed think I would have done some things different. And if I had I believe I would have had more friends.”

Killebrew, on the other hand, was respected and liked by virtually everyone who came into contact with him, including opponents.

“We all loved Harmon so much,” said fellow Hall-of-Famer Bert Blyleven, a teammate of Killebrew’s with the Minnesota Twins. “Harmon was a great man, on and off the field. He was a bigger Hall of Famer off the field. Everyone that Harmon ever came into contact with has a story about what a class man he was.”

Another Hall of Famer, George Brett, had this to say about Killebrew: “He was just a fierce competitor and a perfect gentleman at the same time. You don’t see that a lot. Sometimes you get fierce competitors who are bad people. You see guys that are not fierce competitors but not nice guys. You don’t see the two of them together very much.”

Steve Nash wants to be remembered in a similar way as Killebrew is.

“I simply want people to remember me as a competitor and a great teammate,” said Nash, a two-time NBA MVP who’s likely headed to the Hall of Fame. “That’s it. Those are the two most important things.”

Legendary Green Bay Packers football coach Vince Lombardi is quoted as saying, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” I couldn’t disagree with that sentiment more.

Let’s take a step back and consider what sports competition really is.

Are one’s opponents the enemy? Do they have evil intent? Do they need to be vanquished? Is a sports contest a zero sum game in which only one team, or one individual, can gain anything positive?

Or, are your competitors people who are a lot like you? Do they love sports? Do they desire to become the best they can be? Do they play hard, strive to win, and do it by the rules?

I think in the vast majority of cases, the answer to the first set of questions is “No,” and the answer to the second set of questions is “Yes.”

Sport at its best is a cooperative activity in which competitors on both sides play with honor in a mutual quest for excellence. As such, our opponents are also our colleagues. We compete with our opponents, not against them.

Unfortunately, I think we’re seeing a slow but steady decline in sportsmanship today, from the youth level to the pro level. And that leads to more cases of ugly and unethical competition.

David Light Shields and Brenda Light Bredemeier wrote a thought-provoking book called True Competition: A Guide to Pursuing Excellence in Sport and Society. In this book, they make an important distinction between “true competition” and “decompetition.”

True competition is in essence a partnership in which opponents play ethically against each other to optimize performance, develop life skills, and have fun. Decompetition is based on a metaphor of war, in which antagonistic conflict reigns and the goal is simply to come out on top — at whatever cost.

I love true competition and hate decompetition.

Today, my competitive sports activities begin and end with the tennis league I play in. Interestingly, I see the same types of opponents in this league that I saw as a nine-year old Little League baseball player.

Some weeks you run into the tennis guy who swears, pouts and pounds his racquet into the ground on missed shots. If he loses, he may or may not shake your hand before marching off.

Other weeks you run into the classy competitor who plays his heart out, complements your good shots, takes his bad shots in stride and wins or loses with grace and dignity. After the match, he’ll have a snack and drink with you and talk about a variety of things — some sports-related some not. There’s a sense of mutual appreciation, and an unspoken acknowledgement that you came together to not only test each other’s abilities, but just as importantly, for exercise, camaraderie and fun.

Regrettably, I’ve been a decompetitor during my sports career more times than I’d like to admit. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve increasingly made being a true competitor my number one priority. I now value sportsmanship tremendously.

I love reading or hearing about instances of great sportsmanship. There have been plenty of examples through the years, many of them taking place in the Olympic Games. However, my favorite involves two college softball teams, Western Oregon and Central Washington.

Sara Tucholsky, a light-hitting senior for Western Oregon, hit a three-run homer in a game against Central Washington. She had never hit a home run before so she understandably was still looking at her accomplishment as she got to first base. As a result, she missed the bag. When she turned to go back to touch first base she twisted and her knee gave out. Tucholsky crumpled to the ground in pain. She was crying as she crawled back to first base.

The umpires ruled that Tucholsky’s teammates couldn’t help her around the bases, and that if she couldn’t make it around the bases, she’d only be credited with a single, not the first and only home run of her career.

Then Central Washington first baseman Mallory Holtman entered the discussion and said, “Excuse me, would it be okay if we carried her around and she touched each bag?”

The umpires conferred and then said that idea would be permissible. And so Holtman and Central Washington shortstop Liz Wallace lifted Tucholsky up and carried her to second base, gently lowering her so she could touch the bag with her foot. They did the same thing at third base and home plate.

By the time the three of them reached home, the fans were standing and applauding, many of them with tears in their eyes.

Western Oregon ended up winning the game 4-2 on the strength of Tucholsky’s three-run blast. But win or lose the score seems so trivial in that game.

Something more important took place.

What made Holtman do it?

Holtman said her coach, Gary Frederick taught her that “winning is not everything.”

Western Oregon coach Pam Knox said Holtman’s act “came from character.”

“They’re playing for a coach (Frederick) that instills it,” said Knox.

To me, sports don’t get any better than what happened that day. Everyone on both teams and in the stands won that afternoon.

Sportsmanship is a concept that helps remind us that there are things more important than winning and our own desires. It’s about respect, honor and relationships.

Sportsmanship is soul-based. It’s bigger than the game. It’s the spiritual aspect of sports. And it’s the polar opposite of the ego-based win-at-all-costs mentality that’s becoming too prevalent in sports today.

After all these years, perhaps nobody has put it as aptly and succinctly as Rice did in his famous poem:

“For when the One Great Scorer comes
To mark against your name,
He writes — not that you won or lost —
But how you played the Game.”

Those four simple but powerful lines should be posted on signs at the entrance of every sports venue across the globe.


You CAN Choose Your Outlook

You can choose your outlook.

There are some people who just love to be miserable. These are the people who you actually avoid asking, “how are you?” because the answer depresses you. If you have had a bad day, they will come up with 5 reasons why their’s is worse. If you had a loved one pass away, they will go on to tell you how the plague wiped out their entire family.

Recently I was in a hotel lobby speaking with a colleague. We were just passing the time (lying about how good our gymnasts are) when a friend of mine, Liz, came over. I introduced them and the 3 of us shared some quick stories and a laugh before we went on our way. As I left with my friend she remarked, “What a great guy. So happy and positive. The world could use more people like that.”
What Liz didn’t know was that this man had suffered terrible loss in the last couple years. His daughter had died in a car accident and he had recently lost his wife to illness. But still, he had a great outlook.

At that point I decided that when someone asks me how I am doing- I am going to say, “I am Amazing!”
Because what’s the point in being negative. When I am asked what training will be today- I am going to say, “it will be great. (and then back it up with why)”

I’m just curious. Most coaches and club owners claim we want to be happy—to have meaningful lives, enjoy ourselves, experience fulfillment, and share our love for the sport.

Strangely enough, however, some people act as if they just want to be miserable, and they succeed remarkably at inviting misery into their lives and their gym. Even though they get little apparent benefit from it, since being miserable doesn’t really seem to help them.

I see some folks do the same negative repeating behaviors over and over again and I don’t understand it.  Complaining about the same things. Sometimes they group together at competitions and encourage others to wallow too so there’s a mutual complain and enable-fest.  Sometimes they take turns.  Sometimes they talk over each other.  However they communicate though, it seems to encourage the misery rather than taking it away.

I don’t get it.  When we complain we want to vent and then to find a solution after we’ve calmed down.  We want to be happy.
We all get hit with bad things from time to time, some of us more than others.  But some folks seem to be able to manufacture their own bad luck, or to react incredibly strongly to things most of us are just mildly annoyed by.  How people react to negative events seems really important.
We want to be around people who want to be happy.  We like people who have growth mind-sets.

There is a time and place for shared misery (for me particularly in grad school).  But there are ALSO times to stop moaning and do your writing.  Structured groups are good for this: first hour bitch-n-moan, second hour hard work, then break for snack, more work, a closing few minutes of social time, etc.  Commiseration is useful sometimes, but it must be backed up with productivity if you’re going to survive.  I like my staff meetings at the gym to be structured. There is a little time for people to whine in the beginning if necessary. Then we need to move forward. Solve problems. I think in gymnastics we have“a culture of stress” and that it isn’t necessarily the most helpful.

If you’re hanging out with people who seem to enjoy being miserable, and seem to enjoy encouraging you when you’re making bad choices (that will cause misery down the road) or just being miserable (and discourage you from making choices that could reduce the misery)… why are you doing that?

Instead of having a race to the bottom when someone asks how you are doing, have a race to the TOP. Encourage others as well!


14 Habits of Highly MISERABLE People. 

The Marathon Gymnast | Get Psyched!

Source: The Marathon Gymnast | Get Psyched!

Sometimes we get so caught up in the unforeseeable future that we forget to enjoy our children today. Author Jodi Brichta-Coyne writes an amazing article on the long journey of sports and how we can sometimes get so caught up in the unknown and we are so busy trying to plan out our children’s future, that sometimes miss out on the amazing success they are having today.

The Marathon Gymnast
As a mother of a level 7 competitive gymnast, I sometimes find myself trying to figure out when she will make it to level 10- the highest level before Elite. You see when she first started out she was on level 4 (where a lot of girls start), and improved very quickly. I saw other girls her age skipping levels and thought, “hey, maybe she should skip too, she has the skills”. Then I found myself comparing my daughter with other girls her age to see where they are at. It started to get out of hand when you find yourself talking to other moms and the first thing that comes out of their mouth is “what level is she at? how old is she? is she moving up this year?” I was getting sucked into the race where the race was more about who can get to level 10 the quickest, and not so much about process to get there and the mindset of building endurance, keeping the balance, and finishing strong.

The part that scares me is my daughter lives in that race to get to level 10 because the girls are so focused on levels (and not the process) that they lose the real meaning of what the race is all about. So I stepped back and looked at it from a different perspective. My job as a parent is not to push her to get in front before the others but support her in the present moment. It’s one thing to have goals and strive to achieve them, but another to lose focus on the task at hand to get you there. If I don’t teach her to breathe, stay focused, about grit, and other empowering tools she will need then.. will she burn out and give up long before the race is over?

I recently read a staggering statistic from the National Alliance of Sports that showed 70% of kids will quit sports before they turn 13. I thought “WOW!” The survey concluded that the number one reason why they quit is because it is no longer fun. What they enjoyed about their sport, i.e. gymnastics at levels 3/4 is totally different at levels 9/10 which requires much more time, effort and focus. In the beginning it was all about having fun as everything was new, and it was so exciting to get to the next skill. Most parents didn’t need to push because they didn’t have too. They were excelling on their own and were beaming. Then somewhere along the way the pressure got more intense as the skills got harder and took longer to achieve. Isn’t that the same at the beginning of a marathon? your adrenaline is pumping as the race begins and you are full of energy. The energy of the other runners pump you with excitement as you begin the journey together.

Then about half way through you notice that there are greater distances between you and the person in front of you and behind you. It isn’t crowded anymore and you begin to notice people on the sidelines falling behind. Your mind races with thoughts of.. “what if I can’t make it, what if everyone passes me and I can’t keep up..what if I quit right now!”
As thoughts swirl through your head of the reasons why you should stop your body keeps going. Then another thought floats through your head and you tell it to STOP! you start to focus back on your breath and think about the reasons why you are here and you will not quit. You think, I can and I will finish and you push yourself to go further leaving the negative thoughts behind you and focus in the moment (the only thing you really have control over).

Sure there are many legit reasons to quit, your body starts to hurt, you can’t breathe, you get injured. It happens and it happens to the best. The one thing that young gymnasts don’t realize is that the race is long and it is so much more than skills they are acquiring as they move up in levels or in the case of the marathon runner gaining momentum and pushing to go farther. They gain mental toughness, confidence, grit, courage, trust, faith, focus, determination, patience, perseverance and respect. They learn how to work together as a team to support one another, they learn compassion and kindness toward their fellow athletes (especially when one gets hurt), their coaches, and so many other wonderful lessons.

The race is long, there is no need to rush because in life some lessons just take longer to learn than others and that’s ok. They say that a lesson keeps on repeating itself until it is learned, then you can move on. This is a race that an athlete has with themselves not only in their sport but throughout all life stages and a parent pushing them before they are ready never works. They must fall down, they must fail, be disappointed and they must also learn how to get back up and get back in the race. Sure we can encourage and empower however, they themselves must walk their path. In the end, we are here to guide them and send them off into the world. So instead of wondering when she will make it to level 10 (and she may not ever make it and I am OK with that), I am going to sit back and watch her and enjoy the moment. It is her sport, her journey, and wherever it takes her the lessons learned along the way are much more valuable then striving to get somewhere before it’s time.

by: Jodi Brichta-Coyne

Follow Jodi

How to use Affirmations and Positive Self-Talk. | Get Psyched!

I know, I know I talk about affirmations and positive self-talk all the time. I am a true believer in positive affirmations, inspirational quotes, and empowering words that build athletes up. My thoughts are that if we fill our lives with comments that remind us how wonderful, strong, beautiful, and talented we are, then we will tend to eventually believe them.

So what’s the problem?

Well some specialists in the Sports Psychology and Mental Toughness world sometimes mention that affirmations do not work. In an article published in Psychology Today, author Ray Williams states that people with low self esteem actually feel worse after using positive affirmations.


Source: How to use Affirmations and Positive Self-Talk. | Get Psyched!

Taking Ownership

Last weekend I hosted our Xcel State Championships at a local high school. It was a great competition. What I love about this level is the pure joy of gymnastics. The first day saw about 350 competitors. There was laughter. There was cheering (not just for teammates but also for other competitors). What I didn’t see- any crying out of frustration or disappointment. (I will save these thoughts for another blog).

I sat at the table facing the crowd playing floor music and making announcements. Nearly every team of parents could be identified in their group by their T-shirts, banners and cheering (I feel Another blog on crowd/parent behavior). At the end of each session as the parents filed out and headed to awards some teams of parents just got up and left leaving pop corn boxes, news papers, various bottles and coffee cups. The area staked out by other teams were so clean it was as if they were never there. I watched a few parents on their way down the bleachers picking up stuff left by other groups.

At the end of the weekend when we finished loading everything back on the DGS truck I had parents in the bleachers cleaning everything left behind then sweeping the bleachers. I had parents dry mopping the vinyl cover over floor before another group helped the custodians fold it up. The custodians were very thankful for our help with things that was “their job”. I remarked, “My goal was to run a successful competition for the kids and to be good guests. You are obviously proud of your facility and you were gracious enough to let us use it so I am proud of the facility as well.”

Polish the floor and you polish your soul
-Zen saying

I try to impress upon my staff and all the gymnasts at Atlantic Gymnastics (Rec and Team) to treat the gym as your second home. Take pride in your surroundings. Pick up the garbage instead of stepping over it. I rarely am offended and usually very thankful when a parent takes the time to point out where we have failed to meet their expectations. Some people get upset with these “complaints” but I look at them as a chance for us to improve our product. Whether a parent has concerns over heat/ ac (my second floor observation room is very warm in the winter and penguins would be comfortable up there when the AC is on), trash in the parking lot or when one of our teachers doesn’t deliver at the level we expect. In general for every parent that takes the time to say something there are 10 who feel the same and do not say anything.

There are NO small jobs. Each job is important and in order for this ship to sail smoothly everyone must work together and be willing to pick up the slack when necessary.

I was doing some research to expand on this article when I came across the blog GYMNAST CROSSING. They cover the same topic (even using the same zen saying). Please visit their blog. Instead of trying to rewrite what they have done such a good job on, I will repost their article.

From Gymnast Crossing:

Polish the floor and you polish your soul
-Zen saying

While out for my morning run to the park this cloudy morning, I was doing sit-ups at a station and watched a woman randomly picking up trash as she was walking.  As she passed by me, I told her she was awesome and thanked her for the act and the inspiration.  I was done running, and walked to the next station for push-ups, picking up some litter along the way.  Not much of a trouble, either, considering there are trash cans conveniently placed throughout the park.

During summer and winter camp in previous years, other coaches and myself would on occasion, give a speech to the girls after noticing how not everyone was pulling her own weight in cleaning up after lunch.  Some girls would be pretending to clean; or making a concerted effort to not put in much effort.  Other gymnasts would occupy cleanup time with mostly socializing.

And then there were the few teammates who were actually engaged in quality work on cleaning.

Is this fair to the teammates who are shouldering most of the workload?  Does the job get done more efficiently when more people help or when less people help?

Is it ever fair when a person has to clean up after herself, and the mess left behind by others?  Who benefits?  The person working hard, disciplining herself to do the right thing?  The person being lazy and inconsiderate of others, not pulling her own weight?

When I phrase it in those terms, the answer is quite obvious.

The girls have been talked to as well, regarding the state of the gym, in general.  At the end of the day, used athletic tape is discarded in a twisted mangle; paper wrappings to chalk blocks litter the floor by bars; defrosted peas in plastic ziplocs mine the gym like IEDs, ready to be stepped on and exploded….

The gym is like a second home.  How do you treat your home?

If you see trash lying around, do you pick it up?  Or wait in hopes that the responsible party will return to do it, himself?  Or trust that someone else will do it?  Just not you?

When it’s time to move mats, either to set up drill stations or clear some space; or to move mats to make it easier for the evening clean-up crew to do their job of cleaning up after us, I notice who is helping and who is not helping.  Your coaches might not always say something.  But they notice.

Have some character and integrity:  Do the right thing.  Clean up after yourself and others.  Don’t wait around for a coach to tell you; don’t expect to be recognized or praised, either.  Do it because it’s the right thing to do- and do it especially when you think no one is looking.


USA Gymnastics | AAP study differentiates between structured trampoline programs and backyard trampolines

The American Academy of Pediatrics today released a policy statement, “Trampoline safety in childhood and adolescence.” Although the piece focused mostly on the dangers of backyard trampolines, the paper separated backyard/recreational trampolines and activities from trampolines used in structured training programs. The statement’s conclusion stated, “Pediatricians should only endorse use of trampolines as part of a structured training program with appropriate coaching, supervision and safety measures in place.”

“In a supervised environment like a gymnastics club, trampoline activity has incredible benefits for kids, whether training for a sport or getting fit,” said Steve Penny, president of USA Gymnastics. “USA Gymnastics club programs are designed to follow the highest in both safety and equipment standards in the development and training of an athlete. The differences between a backyard trampoline and trampoline training at a gymnastics club are vast, and we applaud the AAP for recognizing those differences as noted in today’s policy statement.”

Source: USA Gymnastics | AAP study differentiates between structured trampoline programs and backyard trampolines

It’s All About The Follow Through

follow_through_smallAt the beginning of every year, we make a promise to change something in the gym. We want to make improvements every year.
We think about how to succeed in the coming school year and have high hopes for becoming a better manager and meeting the best expectations we have for ourselves.
Unfortunately, we don’t always follow through on our plans during the year. So many of them fall through the cracks, never to materialize. We start with a bang but end with a whimper. Apparently, we are doing something wrong — over and over.

How do we make our dreams for the gym a reality? How do we implement all of our plans? How do we move from words to actions? Where should we start? There is no secret to business success.

First, to have the answers to these questions, you need to understand whether or not your goals are realistic or inline with the overall business plan. Once you are clear on the goals, it’s never too late to follow through on them. Even though the year is almost over, you can take advantage of this remaining month to achieve at least some of your goals.

1. Strengthen your sense of urgency
No matter how beautiful the dream is, you need to be motivated to start acting. However, you can’t wait for motivation to just show up. That’s why you must create the necessity for change.

  • Consider all of the pros and cons of the changes you want to make.
  • Then think about how not acting on your plans will negatively impact YOUR JOB and everyones job.
  • Write down everything on paper, making two columns with the pros and cons of the present status quo and the future of the gym IF you take action.
  • Don’t forget to set a deadline for achieving your dream. Having a firm date by which you commit to completing your goals will light a fire under you.
  • Consider the fact that if changes are not made you may be replaced.

2. Find new emotions
Perhaps, everyone has experienced this — you start to follow through on your ideas, and then you burn out. The reason for this is that you disconnect from the positive emotions that inspired you in the first place. The emotions behind the dream or goal are the fuel that propels you to take action and move forward. Without that fuel, you fizzle out. Sometimes you need to manufacture more emotional fuel to relaunch your plans.

  • Envision the most pleasant and exciting aspects of your plans.
  • Then write those down on a paper.
  • Stick this paper on the fridge, computer, mirror or wherever you can see it regularly.
  • At a staff meeting- hand out some magazines. Ask everyone to cut out a photo and make a photo collage or dream board.

3. Find a support
Friends, colleagues, a coach or manager from a different gym — these are the people who could play an important role in achieving your success. Talk more often to people who are ready to support you and inspire you.

  • Attend  seminars, join meet-ups, or find a group of like-minded people on social media. LISTEN, LEARN, IMPLEMENT
  • Make the effort to reach out to others in the gym to tell them about your plans and ask for support.
  • Try to avoid pessimists and naysayers who undermine your enthusiasm. AND- do NOT be that pessimist to others!
  • Look for a mentor or adviser who is familiar and successful with your goals and seek their input and ideas.

4. Eliminate obstacles
Often it happens that at first everything is going smoothly with your plans, then your life begins to present obstacles to the changes. At the time of difficulties, you are ready to give up all the plans and dreams.

  • Analyze the obstacles to determine if they are truly obstacles or just temporary set-backs. Are they emotional or actual difficulties?
  • Determine what you can control and overcome and what is out of your control.
  • Take action on what you can change or solve, taking small and manageable steps to deal with the problem.
  • Seek help from supportive friends, family, or professionals who can guide you.

5. Learn new habits
Most people can’t start implementing their plans because they are accustomed to their old habits. A huge part of making real and lasting change in your life is learning new habits that support your goals of the program. In order to make a real change you need to get out of your comfort zone. (Read FOLDING TOWELS) If your goal is to increase staff morale you may need to learn a variety of small habits such as getting to the gym earlier, create an incentive program, or try to catch your coaches doing something right. Implementation: 

  • Learn the necessary steps in creating sustainable habits.
  • Break down each new habit into small mini-habits that are manageable and easy.
  • Tackle one new habit at a time so you don’t feel overwhelmed as you are working toward your goal.

6. Reward yourself
Every step along the way, celebrate your accomplishments. It’s hard to commit to on-going action and habit change. Remind yourself that you are doing the work necessary to create a better life and reward yourself for your efforts.

  • Consider getting a calendar where you list your daily actions toward your goal or habit change. Every time you take action, put a gold star on the day. This sounds remedial — but it is truly very satisfying.
  • Think of some other small rewards you can give yourself each time you finish an action — a piece of chocolate. You should try to catch your coaches doing something right and reward them- make sure you catch yourself doing something right too.
  • Be sure you attach positive reinforcement to every action you achieve.

Remember, dreaming, setting goals and making plans isn’t enough to succeed. You need to act today, tomorrow, and every day after to make your plans materialize. Don’t hesitate, think of some motivation that will help you to move forward and begin to follow through on your plans right now.


an unfair deduction – “chest low” – Gymnastics

In NCAA Gymnastics in particular, I keep hearing people refer to “chest low on landing” deduction. Yet in the current FIG Women’s Code of Points I see only this reference: Landing faults ~ Body posture fault = 0.1 or 0.3 deduction An angled chest on landing is not necessarily a “body posture fault”, though it … Continue reading an unfair deduction – “chest low”

Source: an unfair deduction – “chest low” – Gymnastics