Know Your Bible: The Lost Art of Sportsmanship
How will you be remembered?

The game was progressing at a fast and furious rate. All the players were giving 100 percent. All of a sudden, the loud blast of the referee’s whistle filled the gymnasium. A foul was called on one of the leading players. How did this man react? Did he take the call and carry on with the game? No.

Slamming the basketball to the wooden floor, he walked off the court and smashed his hands onto the court’s wall mats in a display more befitting a rebellious kindergartner than a professional athlete.

The team’s captain strove to calm this player down, but the damage had been done. The whole team was dragged down by the unsportsmanlike conduct of this one individual. His team was then thrashed by the opposition who, incidentally, displayed a higher degree of sportsmanship after this childish tantrum.

Incidents such as this are common. They occur in every sport. In the United States, basketball players have head-butted, pushed and shoved referees because decisions did not go their way. Some punch opponents in the face. This kind of conduct is nothing short of disgraceful—and it’s just within the non-contact sport of basketball!

In worldwide sport, we see no real difference. In cricket, scuffles among batsmen, fielders and umpires continue. Today, both divisions of the sport of rugby—Rugby League and Rugby Union—are commonly portrayed as gladiator sports, with brawling, spitting, swearing and coat-hanging (hitting a player from the neck up). Soccer is another sport more worthy of Oscar-award status than to be called a game played by professional sportsmen. Players fall to the ground pretending to be in pain, striving to trick the referee. In this sport, a simple handshake or pat on the back is not enough when a fellow player scores. There is a huge uproar, complete with shouting, hugs, tears, etc. It’s a pathetic, disgusting display of unsportsmanlike conduct. In tennis, players continually argue and swear at both umpires and spectators. In American football, a player now scores a touchdown and then proceeds to cha-cha, tango, jive, waltz, slow-rhythm or rap dance in an overwhelming glow of self-exaltation. These are just a few samples of the worldwide degeneration of sportsmanship.

Today, good sportsmanship appears old-fashioned. Anger and arguments infect all levels of sport. In a world full of poor sportsmen and women, it is important to understand true sportsmanship. Is true sportsmanship important? Can it be restored to sports today? What are the values that make up a good sport?

For this study, you will need your Bible, a piece of paper and a pencil or pen. Turn to the scriptures as you read them, and write them down as you go. This will help you better understand the meaning of true sportsmanship—and how the values of a good sportsman will aid you both on and off the sports field.

Win at All Costs?

1. When you play sports, should you strive to win? Ecclesiastes 9:10; 1 Corinthians 9:24-27.

There is nothing wrong with winning. When we are participating in a worthwhile activity, God commands that we do it with our might! That includes playing sports. Intentionally allowing the other team to win isn’t the give way—that doesn’t help them work hard or improve their skills.

2. Although playing to win is important, should that be the only thing on your mind when you are playing sports? Philippians 2:3-4.

In society, winning is perceived as all that matters. Coaches and players understand that the world loves a winner and has little or no time for a loser. Winning brings with it great financial benefits: endorsements, sponsorships, scholarships, renewed contracts and player bonuses. Cities go to great lengths to keep “their team” in their city—mainly for the financial payoffs in exposure, tourism and ticket sales. Professional sports stars earn millions of dollars a year if they do well, and thus, they find themselves in a “paid-to-win” situation.

Because of the high importance placed on winning, most sportsmen will do whatever it takes to win—including purposefully fouling, injuring or fighting with their competition. And with all of the attention that is placed on athletes in our society today, young people strive to emulate these sports icons. Today’s generation of young people mimic the brats of tennis, the gladiators of football, and the sulking complacency of cricket. Few take a stand against the norm.

3. Does God want His teens to stand against the norms in this world? Romans 12:2.

As Philippians 2:3-4 state, God’s teens should not desire to win so much that they use strife or violence to do so. You should strive to give a good time to the opposing players. You should strive to play at your highest level with the mindset of helping the other team to play at its highest level as well. That is playing to win, but it is also playing in a way that will cause both teams to enjoy the game—and to improve at playing it.

The True Values of Sportsmanship

The major purpose of sports is to teach and instill true values and proper attitudes in those who play, coach and officiate. Being a true sportsman or sportswoman is all about building character! Have you ever viewed sports in that light before? Sports build positive or negative character in those who participate in them. It is often said that, “If you really want to get to know someone, play sports with them.” Sports bring out either the best or the worst in a person. Which one do they bring out in you? If you are a good sport, you will build character as you play a sport. If you aren’t a good sport, how do you become one? There are five values that you need to have in order to be a good sportsman. These values are also necessary to be successful in life in general.

The First Value—Attitude

1. Who is the author of the competitive spirit that has influenced all sports on Earth? 2 Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 2:2; 1 Peter 5:8.

Satan’s way is the “me, myself and I first” philosophy. He, as the prince of the power of the air, transmits bad attitudes and feelings of competition, strife and resentment. He, as a roaring lion, has successfully devoured the art of sportsmanship. Sportsmanship is indeed a lost art, and those who practice it correctly are few and far between.

Harming your opponent to gain an advantage or the winning edge is wrong. To self-righteously beat the air with your hands after a win is wrong. Both of these things are manifestations of the wrong attitude—the competitive spirit that Satan fills this earth with. When you play sports, your focus should be on doing your best and striving to win, yes, but you should not allow that desire to stand in the way of your main focus—to play the game with the best attitude.

2. Whose attitude should you look to as an example when playing sports? John 13:13-15; Philippians 2:5; 1 John 4:8.

When Jesus Christ does anything, He does it out of love and service toward others. We should follow our team Captain’s attitude. In all circumstances and situations you go through—including the moments in a game when you are frustrated and ready to take your anger out on someone—think about how Jesus Christ would react.

In the July-August 1984 Plain Truth, Herbert W. Armstrong wrote, “In interschool or intercollegiate competition, or the pro game, the attitude too often is bad. When it is—when there is a spirit of hostility toward the other side—then it does break God’s law. …

“Satan is the author of competition based on hostility, harm to the opponent, getting by taking from an opponent—to his harm or loss.

“God’s way is love toward neighbor equal to love of self.

“Competition in business that takes from or harms the competitor is evil competition. Competition that helps the opponent by stimulating him to do his best or to do better, but does not harm—rather benefits—the opponent, is healthy competition. So competition can be evil, or good, depending primarily on the attitude in which it is participated” (emphasis added).

You must set the example in this world of twisted sports and uphold the true art of sportsmanship. Your attitude in sports will go a long way in determining the outcome of the game on the scoreboard, the outcome of the attitudes of the others playing the game, and the amount of character that you build.

The Second Value—Courage

1. What is a command repeatedly given to both God’s nation—Israel—and the men He used to lead that nation in the Old Testament? Deuteronomy 31:6-7, 23; Joshua 1:6, 9, 18; Joshua 10:25.

God knew His people would need courage to face the obstacles they would run in to. Courage enables us to meet obstacles in life with resolute firmness. You need courage to succeed in life—and you need it to become a good sport.

“Ever since the operation that removed his right leg above the knee on March 8, Terry Fox knows his high hopes to play basketball for Simon Fraser University are shattered. …

“Painful chemotherapy and the agonized moans of fellow cancer patients harden his resolve. The 18-year-old … pens a letter to the Canadian Cancer Society. …

“The letter outlines an awesome proposal: to jog on an artificial leg across the entire 5,300-mile span of Canada in a spectacular bid to dramatize the plight of the handicapped and to raise money for research” (Youth ’83, “A Teenage Dream That Stirred a Nation”).

Although Terry Fox died before making it across Canada due to the severe stress running put on his body, his courage and determination inspired millions worldwide. This is an example of raw courage.

2. If you go to God, will He help you overcome any problems that you can’t conquer on your own—including a bad attitude in sports or a lack of courage to do what’s right? Matthew 19:26.

Never giving in—and asking God in fervent, effectual prayer to bolster your courage and help you overcome insurmountable odds—will ensure that you are successful in your mission, whether it be to build a positive habit in your everyday life or overcome a bad attitude on the sports field.

The Third Value—Endurance

1. Did Jacob have to endure a lot of pain before God would bless him? Genesis 32:24-30.

It’s easy to give up when the odds are against us. It’s hard to endure, persevere and display stick-to-it-iveness. Without the ability to endure, however, you will find it tough to play your hardest in a game where you don’t have a chance of winning. You will most likely give up since the situation is useless anyway, in your opinion.

If Jacob had thought that way, he would have given up as soon as he realized that he was wrestling with God—he could never defeat a God Being, after all. Instead of giving up, however, Jacob endured through the pain of an out-of-joint thigh—and he was greatly blessed for it.

2. Can we receive blessings as Jacob did, if we endure to the end? Matthew 24:13, 46-47; Hebrews 2:1-8; Revelation 3:12, 21.

The Fourth Value—Patience

1. When a wrong decision is made in a game, how should you deal with it? 1 Peter 2:19-21.

Sports, like life, have their obstacles, delays, trials, failures and stresses. There will be times when a wrong call is made or when you don’t get the ball even after you’ve called for it multiple times. As sportsmen and women, you must meet these difficulties with calmness and composure—and without complaint.

You must recognize that you won’t become an undisputed champion of the world overnight. It is a growth process. It takes time to practice your skills and raise your level of consistency. It takes a lot of practice to improve. It is important to not be easily discouraged. If you patiently continue to practice, your skill level will increase.

Playing sports is a positive way of developing patience. For instance, a marathon is a long race. If you sprint at the beginning of the race, you probably won’t make it to the end. But if you pace yourself correctly—if you show patience—you will have a much better chance of finishing the race.

The game is never over until it’s over—until the time on the clock has completely expired. Many seemingly hopeless games are won in the last three to five seconds. Developing patience will further your composure and ability within those moments of pressure, both on and off the field.

The Fifth Value—Teamwork

1. In order to have a strong, successful team, do team members have to work together and be unified? Matthew 12:25; Luke 11:17. If the teammates can get along with each other, will they be stronger together than they would be by themselves? Ecclesiastes 4:9.

If your team is going to win anything, it has to be unified. If you are going to help your team win, you have to be a unifying force on the team. And if your team is unified, you will have a higher chance of winning the game.

Team sports help you learn how to get along better with others, interact with other players, and sacrifice personal glory for the benefit of the team. Team sports promote teamwork, and teamwork promotes selflessness, sharing, sacrifice and outflowing concern for the welfare of others—the give way. Teamwork helps to root out attitudes of selfishness, egotism, envy, strife and criticism. These negative traits, if allowed, will swiftly evaporate true team spirit and greatly damage the effectiveness of the team. Work together as a team to counteract them.

In order to have a good team, all the team members must work together, support each other in cooperation, and live the give way of outflowing concern for the good and welfare of others. If they don’t, the team will be divided, and it will never be able to win.

2. Can teammates push one another to improve their skills? Proverbs 27:17; Hebrews 10:24.

If you have people on your team relying on you to deliver under pressure, you will be more likely to work harder to ensure that you never let them down. You will improve your personal skills so your team can improve as a whole. If you care for your teammates, you won’t want to let them down—they’ll provoke you to good works. Team sports help you build up the people around you as well as improve yourself—and the character you develop in team sports will help you in far more than just the sports themselves.

It’s How You Play the Game

Remember, being a true sportsman or woman is all about building character. Sports columnist and author Grantland Rice said, “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.” Be sure to review your performance after each sporting event, just as you should evaluate every circumstance occurring in your life. Search out areas you can improve in. Then, in the next sporting situation—or the next personal trial you go through—you will react in the correct manner.

Remove unsportsmanlike conduct and the win-at-all-costs attitude. Recapture the five true values of sportsmanship—attitude, courage, endurance, patience and teamwork. Raise your standards. Remove anger from your sporting life. Learn to set the example. You can do it! You will win some and lose some. But remember, you will be remembered not by how many games you win or lose, but by how you played the game.