By Cal Ripken, Jr.
Every summer more than fifteen hundred young athletes come to our teaching academy in Aberdeen, MD, for baseball and softball camps. Many of them dream about someday becoming professional athletes.
It used to be that only young male athletes could dream of reaching such lofty heights through athletic participation. But, in recent years with the advent of women’s professional basketball, softball and soccer leagues, young female athletes have been able to share those dreams.
While it’s great to dream and strive for success in all of your endeavors, the reality is that a very, very small percentage of athletes ever get the opportunity to play a sport professionally. In fact, only a handful of the athletes we touch will play at the collegiate level. More, but probably not the majority, will play in high school.
At some point all of us – even the most successful professional athletes – have to venture out into the business world or what some people like to call the “real world.” While it is our primary goal to help the young baseball and softball players who attend our camps improve in those sports, we are very aware that there is more to life than athletics. There are many valuable life lessons that can be communicated through sports participation, and it is our hope that the young athletes who attend our camps will take away something that will help them later on in life. One of those key lessons that we hope to impart is the value of sportsmanship.
When people think of sportsmanship, they naturally think about sports. Well, sportsmanship is defined in this way: Someone who plays fair, sticks to the rules and accepts defeat without any rancor or bitterness. On the field, a good sport plays hard and tries his or her absolute best to win within the scope of the rules. A good sport doesn’t complain to the officials, doesn’t “trash talk” and helps an opponent who falls down get back to his or her feet. When all is said and done, this person has no regrets. The athlete put forth his or her best effort and played fairly, earning the admiration and respect of teammates, coaches, officials and opposing players. Despite being a true competitor, this person is willing to openly congratulate opponents and accept even the most bitter of outcomes, because he or she knows that there was nothing more that could have been done within rules of the game to change the end result.
Just because the root sports actually is part of the word sportsmanship doesn’t mean that sportsmanlike behavior is important only on athletic fields. In life, people who are honest, consistently give their best effort, don’t make excuses, respect others and are able to accept everyday outcomes without complaint or holding grudges are generally the ones who succeed. They are the type of people that any wise CEO would want to build a company or organization around. Because of their attitude, work ethic and professionalism, those who consistently exhibit sportsmanlike behavior in the “real world” earn the respect of their peers, have many friends and admirers and enjoy the highest level of job satisfaction. People will go out of their way to help make a good sport successful. They are people who can go to bed every night satisfied, knowing that they have given their best no matter the outcomes of that particular day.
In life, each day presents many ups and downs. There are far more small defeats than major successes. Good sports don’t get bogged down in these small setbacks. They accept the outcomes, acknowledge that someone might have had a better idea and push on toward bigger and better things. For people of that mindset, success is right around the corner. For poor sports there are nothing but excuses and complaints, which suck up energy and waste valuable time.
A good sport believes that his or her approach is the right one and will not resort to underhanded or deceitful tactics for the sake of improving the results. This person goes back to the drawing board and puts in the time necessary to achieve a more desirable outcome, confident that his or her approach will ultimately lead to success. Poor sports are easily frustrated and often resort to tactics that may prove successful in the short term, but ultimately come back to haunt them.
Coaches, managers and executives always will find a place for those who display the traits of good sportsmanship. Others will come and go – either because they become too miserable, resort to dishonesty or wear out their welcome. Remember to use sports to help develop young athletes’ sportsmanlike traits and you will set them up for success on the field, in the classroom and beyond.