Sportsmanship Research Paper Starter


The history of sportsmanship is framed by the issue of definition that plagues academics when studying sportsmanship. While much research has been done on sportsmanship, there has been no clear definition of the word that is agreed upon by all researchers. Research has shown, however, that sports and sportsmanship can have an influence on students' moral development and task orientation. Sports can teach students about "fairness" and encourage them to set and achieve goals and moral standards. A number of theories have been proposed to explain how people understand sportsmanship, and what motivates athletes to participate in sports.

Keywords Achievement Goal Theory; Moral Character; Motivation; Motivational Orientation; Multidimensional Definition of Sportsmanship; Prosocial Behavior; Self-Determination Theory; Social Learning Theory; Social-Development; Sportsmanship; Sportsmanship Development; Sportsmanship Orientation; Sportspersonship; Structural Development Approach

Physical Education: Sportsmanship



In 1964, James Keating, a sport philosopher, initiated the "modern reflection" on sportsmanship. Keating quite simply defined sportsmanship as "behavior becoming of a sportsperson" (Shields & Bredemeier, 1995, p. 23). While simple in statement, Keating believed in making a distinction between sport and athletics, suggesting that the term sport shall be used only to label recreational activities that are for fun and diversion and sportsmanship "refers to the spirit of moderation and generosity that is appropriately exercised in such contexts" (p.23) in order for all participants to have an enjoyable experience (Shields & Bredemeier, 1995). Keating believed that athletics are competitive and the goal of athletics is to win, which is achieved through dedication, sacrifice, and intensity; therefore sportsmanship is not the appropriate virtue for athletics, rather the appropriate virtue for athletics is fair play, as sportsmanship is "too much to expect" (p.23) in athletics (Shields & Bredemeier, 1995).

What is Sportsmanship?

The history of sportsmanship is framed by the issue of definition that plagues academics when studying sportsmanship. While a lot of research has been done on sportsmanship, there has been no clear definition of the word that is agreed upon by all researchers (Shields & Bredemeier, 1993; Vallerand, Deshaies, Cuerrier, Briere, & Pelletier, 1996). Vallerand and his colleagues (1996) have cited several conceptual definitions that have been used in previous research to demonstrate the diverse definitions in use, these include:

• A general attitude toward certain sport behaviors (e.g., Haskins, 1960; Kistler, 1957; McAfee, 1955)

• Respect for prescribed and proscribed norms from an ethics code (e.g., Knoll, 1976)

• A positive social interaction related to game play (e.g., Giebnink & McKenzie, 1985)

• "the tendency to behave in accordance with one's most mature moral reasoning patterns, even when conventional dictates or success strategies would encourage alternative behaviors" (Weiss & Bredemeier, 1986)

With these examples in mind, two definitional issues surface:

• What is sportsmanship and what is not sportsmanship?, and

• How do we learn about sportsmanship behaviors and unsportsmanslike behaviors? (Vallerand et al., 1996).

These two definitional and conceptual issues limit the ability of researchers to effectively conduct valid and reliable research on sportsmanship that can be united and generalized to our understanding of sport behavior (Vallerand et al., 1996).

Research Perspectives

In addition to no one clear and agreed upon definition, the methodology used in how researchers approach studying sportsmanship varies (Vallerand et al., 1996). For example, Shields and Bredemeier (1995) have conducted extensive research in the area of moral and character development in sport. They view sportsmanship, or what they prefer to label sportspersonship, as a central component of character and it is one that "transcends the world of sport" (p. 194). Shields and Bredemeier (1995) believe that sportsmanship "involves an intense striving to succeed, tempered by commitment to a 'play spirit' such that ethical standards will take precedence over strategic gain when the two conflict" (p.194). Shields and Bredemeier (1995) cite an essay by Feezell (1986) that presents the perspective of sportsmanship as "an Aristotelian balance between an 'internal' perspective on sport that takes its goals and procedures quite seriously and an 'external' perspective grounded in the recognition that sport is really quite inconsequential" (p. 188). This perspective views sport as serious and non-serious and suggests that a participant may be committed and playful in their approach to sport with sportsmanship being the balance between the two (Shields & Bredemeier, 1995).

Vallerand and his colleagues (1994, 1996) are another group of researchers who have done extensive studies in the area of sportsmanship, and who have defined sportsmanship in a multidimensional manner. They believe that their multidimensional definition allows for greater understanding of the processes involved in the display of sportsmanship behavior and allows researchers to investigate sportsmanship separately from aggression. Their multidimensional definition of sportsmanship included these five dimensions:

• Respect/concern for one's full commitment to sport participation,

• Negative approach to sportsmanship – win at all costs approach,

• Respect/concern for rules and officials,

• Respect for social conventions, and

• True respect and concern for the opponent.

Research Findings: The Decline of Sportsmanship

While these definitional issues and the use of a diverse set of instruments to measure sportsmanship plague sportsmanship research, there have still been findings that prove to be quite interesting when looking at sportsmanship and its decline in our modern sport culture (Shields & Bredemeier, 1995). Shields and Bredemeier (1995) cited Kroll and his discussion of the overemphasis on winning as a contributing factor in the decline of sportsmanship. Kroll suggests that emphasis on winning is a factor in whether or not sportsmanship is relevant. This means that when success strategy and ethical strategy collide, and if the participant chooses to take ethical action in some circumstance that does not risk success, then it is not especially noteworthy. However, the true test of sportsmanship is when the strategic plan is compromised for ethical reasons (Shields & Bredemeier, 1995). With this in mind, Vallerand and his colleagues (1994, 1996, 1997) and Shields and Bredemeier (1995) have identified a short list of general findings that suggest that there are multiple determinants that impact sportsmanship behavior. Not all sportsmanship research will be cited; rather a selected list includes:

• Athletes with a "win (at all costs) orientation" competitive approach – have a negative approach to sport participation and show a lack of concern and respect for the opponent, the rules, and/or the officials

• The more adolescent athletes display a negative approach toward sport participation and lack of respect and concern, the more likely they are to indicate that they would consider or intend to use steroids

• Anticipated costs and benefits of engaging in a sportsmanlike behavior is a major determinant of the actual behavior

• Motivational style of the athlete can be a determinant of sportsmanship behavior

• Team athletes showed lower levels of concern for the opponent than did individual sport athletes

• Social pressure directed at leading the team members to do whatever possible to enable a team win

• When compared to non-athletes, athletes have less sportsmanlike attitudes or values and elite athletes have less sportsmanlike attitudes than other athletes


(The entire section is 3601 words.)