The Lost Art of Sportsmanship

There is one man I will always look up to and admire above all others. He is my career advisor, life coach, and best friend. He is my Dad. As with most fathers, he has worked to pass on his advice on all the various aspects of life based on his own experiences. There have been times when I have rolled my eyes at his advice or ignored it, but when it comes down to it, I have found it to be invaluable. During one of our phone calls this week we spoke about a lesson he was helping one of his coworkers to teach his son. It is the lesson that sticks out most to me when I recall memories of my childhood: gracious winner, gracious loser or as Dad says for short, “GWGL”.

These four simple words have taught me more about sports and life than any others. It means to always be a great sport, regardless of outcome. It means to shake hands with your opponent, congratulate them on a great race/game, and to always show respect for them. It means to practice “The Code” as told in our video from Nebraska Football: “If we should win, let it be by the code, Faith and Honor held high. If we should lose, we’ll stand by the road, and cheer as the winners go by.” My Dad would always tell me “GWGL” before and after each game. Though this advice was not always the easiest medicine to take, I always found I felt better about myself when I heeded this advice.

Dad and I during a baseball game in my younger years.

It seems these days that sportsmanship is becoming more and more of a lost art. The commercialization of sports paired with big egos has seemed to cause many to forget the basic meaning of why we play. Sport is not about multi-million dollar contracts, large stadiums, endorsement deals, or fame. In its most elemental form, sport is about inspired competition against yourself and against others. As I watched the US Olympic Marathon Trials, I realized that this is one of the many reasons why I love running so much. When it comes to sportsmanship, I can think of no better showcase than running. There are no personal fouls or unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in running because they are not necessary. The running community is about having a great race as defined by you and encouraging others.

My challenge to you for the week and throughout your life is to always be a gracious winner and gracious loser. Before the race wish your opponents good luck, offer encouragement during the race, and congratulate them after. It does not require much effort to implement these actions but offers a large reward. It is a great reflection of self and showing of character. You can be sure that if I should ever decide to go down the road of marriage/kids, the first lesson they will be taught will be “gracious winner, gracious loser”.

Always In Stride,


Dad and I soaking up the wonders of the world.

Song of the Week – Little Lion Man – Mumford and Sons

Quote of the Week – “Simply trying to define sportsmanship, I think most folks would agree, responsibility and self respect, qualities that today seem in short supply at times. If character is what you do when no one is watching, then perhaps sportsmanship is that conduct with everybody watching. Frankly, the sports industry would probably survive without sportsmanship. It’s so large and so well financed, but it would be refreshing if more parents and coaches, more administrators and more journalists, and especially more players realized there is room to win with flare and style and even get rich and still keep the values that first brought us here to the games.”- Bob Ley

Video of the Week – Nebraska Huskers Code

6 replies
  1. says:

    You know, this strikes a chord with me. I often joke before a race with people near me. I tell them not to worry about me, I’ll be in the back by the time the race is over. But that’s not the point, right? When I do that, I don’t actually encourage them, I just offer false-humility. I will seek to do the right thing before races from now on, even though I’ll still end up near the back!

    • calijackmc
      calijackmc says:

      Self-deprecation can certainly help to lighten the mood before a race but I think you hit the nail on the head with choosing to encourage them instead. Every runner loves to hear encouragement and it is often reciprocated. Generating a feeling of confidence in yourself and those around you will help the mood even more than amusement from self-deprecation. Your running is just that, yours. As long as you are achieving your own set goals, it doesn’t really matter where you finish.

      Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and experience!

  2. Nate Smith
    Nate Smith says:

    Another great post, Jack! I agree with you in that too often people forget the point of competition and the game. And I have definitely found running to be very friendly, supportive, and courteous. Several runners, including you, have been very generous with advice, suggestions, helpful tips, etc., from their own experiences. Not because they want to gloat about their accomplishments, but because, I believe, they really want to welcome a newbie into the “clan” and help him succeed.

    I’m also a debate coach, and I can tell you that the competition for that activity can be pretty rough at times. I think a lot of it has to do with school loyalty. We tend to think of ourselves as competing for a certain school, group, team, etc., and forget that the game is about improving ourselves, our oppoenents, and the competition in general. In debate, as well, it is partly an activity to enlighten and entertain the public. When I’m out running, I’m doing it for me, not for a school, a team, a group, etc. And when it’s just about me, I don’t have to play the political game. I can be me. And being me gives me the opportunity to help others (and receive help from others).

    I hope my comments made sense. It’s late and I feel I’m kind of rambling.

    • calijackmc
      calijackmc says:

      Nate, I’m so happy to hear that you have been welcomed in to the wonderful community of runners where “newbies” are always welcome. You bring up a great point about the loyalty to one’s school or team. There is nothing wrong with inspired competition and pride in one’s team. It just needs to be remembered that competition should stay in the arena and respect should always be maintained. I’m sure that with you as the team’s coach they are respectful and dedicated competitors.

  3. Kelsey Taylor
    Kelsey Taylor says:

    Your dad’s “GWGL” sums up everything I value about sportsmanship in a way I never really felt I could articulate, and you better believe I’m going to adopt this saying. I’ve never seen the point in bad sportsmanship, and when athletes — be that kids on a t-ball game, members of my current softball team, or an admired professional athlete — execute unsportsmanlike conduct, it’s hugely disappointing. It seems like a waste of energy and accomplishes nothing. Competition is fun and losing can be crushing, but I’ve never felt like that’s an excuse to behave poorly on (and off) the field, track, pitch, court, etc.

    Another great post :)

  4. calijackmc
    calijackmc says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your experience and thoughts on the topic Kelsey! Your point about how being a poor sport being a waste of energy is spot on. There is nothing to be gained from it other than a bad reputation.

    So glad to hear you practice and encourage GWGL in your own competitions and life:)


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