Can you practice sportsmanship?

How can you work with your club to improve sportsmanship?

A soccer team shaking hands

You can practice shooting a basket, proper equitation, fitting and grooming an animal, playing an instrument or giving a speech, but have you ever considered practicing sportsmanship? Sportsmanship is not something you can simply do over and over again until you get it right, but practicing sportsmanship skills can make you a better program participant and help with the important life skills of dealing with people in difficult situations.

We often think we have good sportsmanship, but in the heat of competition, we sometimes don’t act with our best behavior. Below are some scenarios to practice sportsmanship in difficult situations. Michigan State University Extension suggests these role-playing exercises that you can rehearse at home or in your 4-H club. By “trying out” these scenarios, young people (and adults) can be better prepared for those situations when similar things happen in the show-ring or another competition. Although each situation is unique, you can prepare yourself mentally for how you can deal with unsportsmanlike or improper conduct. There are no right or wrong answers, but the discussion is valuable to have, outside the intensity of competition.

  • You overhear another person saying that “they know the judge, which is the only reason they did good in the class.” How do you respond?
  • You hear a rumor about someone drugging their animal. What do you do?
  • You overhear someone making a racist comment. How do you respond?
  • You know someone hired a professional groomer/trainer. How do you respond?
  • You overhear some 4-H youth planning vandalism. What do you do?
  • You see people picking on a person with a disability. How do you respond?
  • You see a 4-H member extremely upset after losing a class. How do you respond?
  • You see a 4-H parent screaming at a 4-H member after a competition based on their performance. What do you do?
  • You hear a 4-H member saying to another member, “I hope your horse gets hit by a car.” How do you respond? Would you respond differently if it was an adult saying it?
  • You see a 4-H member abusing their animal. What do you do? How would you respond if you did not see anything directly, but you hear about it from someone else?
  • Imagine you are a superintendent or officer of an association. Some people complain all the time. Some people rarely complain. Do you treat their complaints differently?
  • Think about how you like to be treated when someone is upset about how you handled a situation. Do you prefer people to come to you directly with a complaint or go to a governing body? How do you prefer to be approached? How do you prefer to approach people?
  • A 4-H member wins a lot of classes and appears arrogant and condescending to other 4-H members. How do you respond? Would it matter if their parent or club leader witnessed it or not?
  • You overhear another person saying, “They only win because their parents bought an expensive animal.” How do you respond?
  • You feel a judge is treating 4-H members poorly during a class. How do you respond?
  • You observe that the club/committee officers are treating people rudely and unfairly. How do you respond?
  • You notice a 4-H member crying after a class. When you ask the club member why, she says that another 4-H’er said nasty things to her after the class. How do you respond?
  • You are a 4-H club member. You win a class even though you made a mistake because the judge did not notice it. Another club member, who usually wins, leaves the ring visibly upset because they did not win. How do you respond?
  • You have been receiving complaints about an aggressive show parent. How do you deal with the situation?
  • You have brought up a complaint to your 4-H leader that has not been addressed. What do you do?
  • You suspect that the 4-H member is not doing the work for their animal or project (a relative is doing feeding, grooming, etc). How do you respond?

Hopefully you will take a chance to try these out and discuss them with your clubs and families before the poor behavior occurs. Let this be a chance for both club members and adults to build their positive sportsmanship. The skills practiced in these scenarios can also be used in leadership roles throughout 4-H and the community.

Michigan State University Extension and the Michigan 4-H Youth Development program helps to prepare youth as positive and engaged leaders and global citizens by providing educational experiences and resources for youth interested in developing knowledge and skills in these areas.

To learn about the positive impact of Michigan 4-H youth leadership, citizenship and service and global and cultural education programs, read our Impact Report: “Developing Civically Engaged Leaders.” Additional impact reports, highlighting even more ways MSU Extension and Michigan 4-H have positively impacted individuals and communities can be downloaded from the MSU Extension website.

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