Should you look to pro athletes as examples of sportsmanship?

They perform almost superhuman feats of athleticism. They win games and championships. They are all over the news and the ads. They are our kids’ heroes. But should they be? When you are trying to teach your child lessons about sportsmanship and life, should you be looking to professional athletes as examples? Definitely….maybe.


It’s easy to develop admiration for star athletes and use them as example to your kids on the playing field. But should you? Just because an athlete is a star, does he or she always engage in star behavior? While one might hope so, that’s not always the case. Although professional and/or star athletes can be used as examples of good sportsmanship, pick and choose carefully.

They are human, too

Professional athletes — even super-star athletes — are human, too. They have good days and bad days and they make mistakes, both on the playing field and off. Depending on the situation, or even how much sleep the athlete in question had the night before, an athlete may or may not make a decision we, the public, think of as “good sportsmanship.” They let emotions get the better of them, or perhaps something else is going on that is affecting play. They may be excellent athletes, but they are human.

Status changes everything

Professional athletes are at the top of their games because of years of hard work and dedication to their sport. They are receiving what many long hoped (and worked) for: Adulation and financial reward. But with all that comes pressure, too. Pressure to please others and continue to perform at a very high level, pressure to be a symbol, pressure to be perfect. They are pressures that the rest of us can barely fathom. This creates a playing dynamic in which different decisions might be made — and maybe not the ones we might consider good sportsmanship.

While not condoning less than ethical sports play that might occur, talking with your kids about how it is different for professional athletes can help them understand that admiration of a professional athlete is fine, looking to that professional as a perfect example of sportsmanship might not be the best choice. And you child will be less disappointed if that admired athlete does make a less than perfect choice.

Pick and choose carefully

Famous professional athletes can be good examples of sportsmanship — if you pick and choose carefully and focus on specific circumstances and incidents instead of idolizing whole beings. Just like the “star” athletes in your town, some will rise to occasion more gracefully than others — and there are good games and not so good games. Understanding the greater dynamic in even professional sports can help you help your child what it means to have good sportsmanship.

More on kids and sportsmanship

What kids wish their parents knew about sportsmanship
Be a sports role model for your kids
Bringing up Beckham: Raising athletic kids

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