Several weeks ago, I wrote about two incidents of bad sportsmanship making headlines in teen/young adult sports. But last week, a high school wrestler from Minnesota displayed incredible sportsmanship and character. His actions show how sports can bring out the best in teens and teach valuable life lessons.
Malik Stewart, a high school sophomore, did not win the state title last week. The old saying, “It’s not whether you win or lose but how you play the game” was illustrated at the 120-pound state title championship in Minnesota. In a valiant effort, Stewart lost the match to sophomore Mitchell McKee.
After he was pinned by McKee, Stewart did not get angry or pout. Instead, he shook hands with McKee and with his coaches. Then Stewart walked over and hugged McKee’s father Steve, who is battling terminal cancer. The crowd reacted with tears and a standing ovation for both athletes.
“I got a little teary because I lost the match and I knew the hard times he was going through,” Stewart told NBC affiliate KARE-TV. Stewart could really understand the emotional time the McKee family is going through, as he lost his own father to a heart attack when he was 7 years old. Mitchell McKee appreciated the way Stewart handled the situation and told KARE-TV, “It was a big match for him and to be able to hug my dad like that and not be mad and storm off like a lot kids do—really respectful.”
"When you go out there, you want to win. But if you don't win, you have got to be a good sport and you be polite,'' Stewart said. "That's the biggest part."
The Power of Sportsmanship
Young athletes can learn a lot from Stewart’s example. Rick Wolff, host of WFAN Radio’s sports show, The Sports Edge, says, “"This is the perfect inspirational story to share with your son or daughter when you're in a car on the way to a road game. Kids love stories like these, and they will come away uplifted, as will you, as to the power of sportsmanship. Long after the wins and losses, its lessons like this one that endure."
Here are some tips on how parents can help their teens to be good sports, adapted from PBS:
- Explain what sportsmanship is.
- Be a role model on the sidelines.
- Respect the coach’s role.
- Avoid comparing kids to one another.
- Don't make it all about winning and losing.
- Celebrate success as a group.
- Access loss gracefully.
- Present consequences for poor sportsmanship.
- Commit to having your teen attend practices and games.
- Remember that your teen is playing—not you.