Good Sportsmanship

By Fred Engh

I remember a phone call I received many years ago during my days as an administrator for a large youth-sports program. It was from a mom, upset that players on one of the losing football teams had thrown rocks at the bus carrying her son and his team that day. One window was broken, and a child had to be taken to the hospital.

Obviously, I suspended the team for the season.

While this is certainly an extreme case of bad behavior, there are far too many displays of poor sportsmanship occurring around the country before, during, and after games.

But there is also some incredibly good stuff happening, too.

Check this out: In the younger age groups of the youth-soccer programs conducted at the U.S. Army Garrison Stuttgart Youth Sports & Fitness program in Germany, the staff devised the idea that referees would issue green cards to players who display good sportsmanship.

“We have seen an improvement in sportsmanship, fair play, and friendship between our youth athletes,” says Bradley Ficek, Director of Youth Sports and Fitness at the base and a Certified Youth Sports Administrator (CYSA). “Honesty and integrity are core values of the Army, and this implementation of the green cards has driven these values to the forefront of our league. For example, if a ball is kicked over the touch line, and the official awards the ball to a player on Team A, but the player says he kicked the ball out of bounds or touched it last, a green card would be issued to that player, and the ball would be given to Team B for a throw-in. The official recognizes the player for his fair play and issues a green card in the same manner that a referee issues a red or yellow card, so in these cases the official is not always seen as the bad guy, only issuing red and yellow cards.”

Here is what some other CYSAs shared on this important issue:

Lacy Bienkowski, the Recreation Programmer at the city of Mesa (Arizona): “Great sportsmanship is something that the city of Mesa Youth Sports hopes to instill in all of our participants, parents/guardians, coaches, staff, and spectators. Our Positive Play Project, created in 2013, is the driving force in our sportsmanship efforts. We have had tremendous success ever since we implemented this initiative, and our issues have been significantly eliminated because of our stance and approach. As part of the Positive Play Project, we hand out two awards per league division as a way of recognizing and thanking our positive coaches and teams. The Positive Coaching Award is given to one coach in each division of our leagues who demonstrates the qualities most important to youth sports and the Positive Play Project. Players, coaches, parents/guardians, and staff members vote for the coach in their league whom they feel deserves this special acknowledgment. The Positive Team Award is given to a team in each division that demonstrates the qualities most important to youth sports and the Positive Play Project. Players, coaches, parents/guardians, and staff also vote for this special acknowledgment.

“All teams are encouraged to have a Culture Keeper. This is someone who helps support the coach and league in ensuring that other teams, parents/guardians, and players follow the mission and goals of the program. The Culture Keeper is another parent/guardian, family member, etc., of a team member who remains a spectator on the sidelines at team practices and games, whose responsibility is to support the league and coach.

“All parents and participants must attend pre-season and pre-tournament team meetings. These meetings are a wise investment for all coaches and leagues. People tend to live up to expectations if they know them, and it can help mold the behavior of the athletes’ parents. The most effective way to have the meetings is in a private setting with the full attention of the group. All participants must have a parent/guardian physically present at both meetings in order to participate in the league and tournament. All parents must then sign the back of these forms, acknowledging they attended the meetings as well as understood and agreed to abide by the league, tournament, and coach policies. Participants may not play in any games or the tournament until a parent/guardian has completed the meetings.”

Jason Simpson, Athletic Program Director for the city of Raleigh (N.C.) Parks, Recreation and Cultural Resources Department: “The motto of our athletics division is ‘Where Sportsmanship Redefines Competition.’ The Youth Athletics Program provides to all youth ages 5-18 the opportunity to participate in quality, organized athletics through leagues, special events, camps, and clinics. We strive to teach fundamental skills and rules, teamwork, and sportsmanship in a fun atmosphere, with the leadership of well-trained volunteers and staff. Our focus is on recreational-level athletics. To that end, we also require our parents to sign the parent pledge at registration: ’I hereby pledge to provide positive support and care for my child participating in youth sports by encouraging and demonstrating good sportsmanship for all players, coaches, and officials at every game, practice, and youth-sports event. I will ask my child to treat other players, coaches, fans, and officials with respect regardless, of race, sex, creed, or ability.’”

Fred Engh is founder and CEO of the National Alliance for Youth Sports (NAYS) in West Palm Beach, Fla. He can be reached via email at To join more than 3,000 communities by starting a NAYS chapter, visit or contact Emmy Martinez at or (800) 729-2057.