Most individuals involved with high school athletics realize that the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) is responsible for producing rules books for all sanctioned (recognized) sports. There are committees that meet annually to review and revise the rules for each individual sport.
There is a routine, standard introduction on the inside cover or first page of all rules books, and one statement which is included is that a participant should play within the spirit of the game. What exactly does this mean? It involves doing what is right and intended, even if something isn’t exactly included in a specific rule. Ethics, integrity, honor, respect and other attributes come into focus.
Playing within the spirit of the game should obviously pertain to the athletes or coaches on the court or field, and not trying to gain an unfair advantage. Have you ever seen those involved in the game raising their arms to encourage the fans to chant or yell? While encouragement in reaction to an outstanding play is appropriate, quite often this action or step, however, is meant to deter an opponent or to highlight a misstep or mistake by the opposition.
In basketball, for example, fans may yell “miss it” as a player from the visiting team steps to the foul line and looks at the rim. This action isn’t covered by a rule, but it does represent poor sportsmanship. It also definitely is not within the spirit of the game. Encouraging an opponent to do poorly is completely opposite to this premise. By all means, fans should encourage their team to do well, but never root for the opponent to fail or to make a mistake.
In like fashion, when the crowd sings “Na, Na, Na – It’s All Over” at the end of the contest, the fans are putting down the efforts of the opposing school and humiliating them. Is this right? No, it isn’t! One athletic director was overheard at a conference responding to this example, “The kids were just having fun and we have to allow them to have some fun.” Another athletic administrator in the same group added, “you can’t constantly tell kids ‘No.” If it is wrong, since you are the adult in the room as the athletic administrator, you have to tell your fans “No” if something is inappropriate.
What can be done to promote and ensure more is done to play or operate within the spirit of the game?
The athletic administrator has to be the adult in the room, and the one who must set, remind and enforce the standards for good sportsmanship and the promotion of the concept of playing within the spirit of the game.
Dr. David Hoch is a former athletic director at Loch Raven High School in Towson, Maryland (Baltimore County). He assumed this position in 2003 after nine years as director of athletics at Eastern Technological High School in Baltimore County. He has 24 years experience coaching basketball, including 14 years on the collegiate level. Hoch, who has a doctorate in sports management from Temple (Pennsylvania) University, is past president of the Maryland State Athletic Directors Association, and he formerly was president of the Maryland State Coaches Association. He has had more than 735 articles published in professional magazines and journals, as well as four textbook chapters. He is the author of a book entitled Coaching within the Education-based Athletics Concept. Hoch is a member of the NFHS High School Today Publications Committee.