Eye On The Birdie – Post #10 What’s the Meaning of Sportsmanship?

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Hello! My apologies for missing last week, but I was out of town at a First Lego League tournament. This post is going to be about sportsmanship and, more specifically, how everyone seems to have a different view of what it means. I’ll be using the Lego tournament I just mentioned as an example.

At Lego tournaments, core values are an important component. Each team has a meeting about core values with a panel of two judges. Each meeting includes a question-and-answer section. Our team answered the first couple of questions easily, but then one of the judges asked a question that stumped us.

FFL, instead of using the word sportsmanship, has trademarked a word that is a combination of cooperation and competition. Because it’s trademarked I can’t use it. However, since it is remarkably similar to the word coopetition, I will use coopetition in its place.

The question that confused us was (I’m paraphrasing) “What’s the difference between coopetition and sportsmanship?” For a little while there was no answer. We just glanced at each other, hoping that someone else had a reply. Finally my sister (who is also on the Lego team) said something along the lines of “In sportsmanship you shake hands and act nice and in coopetition you really mean it?” (However, she tells me that she was actually thinking, “They’re the same thing.”) That, apparently, was not the answer he was looking for. After two more answers from different members of the team the judge finally accepted an answer. It was remarkably similar to previous answers. The only major difference was that the last answer said that in coopetition you learn from each other. I probably would have taken months to figure it out, because I believe that learning from each other is part of sportsmanship!

At first, I wondered if my idea of sportsmanship was a golf thing, but my Lego teammates (who play soccer, rugby, and tennis) told me that the reason it took them so long to come up with an answer was because they do learn from opposing teams, and they do usually mean it when they smile and shake hands. I gathered, however, that they learn mainly by observing the other team and not by talking wth them, so I guess golf is kind of special because you have the opportunity to openly converse with your opponents. One can ask questions, give advice, and simply have a pleasant conversation.

For the record, the First Tee’s definition of sportsmanship is “observing the rules of play; winning or losing with grace.” My meaning is more along the lines of “follow the rules and help others follow the rules, win and lose with grace, and be polite and genuinely friendly.” I suppose I have my coaches to thank for that! The question asked at the tournament is still baffling me, so if you want to, please leave any insight and your definition of sportsmanship in the comments section.


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