Development and Evaluation of a Program to Promote Sportsmanship in Youth Sports


  • Mary Sara Wells
  • Gary D. Ellis
  • Karen P. Paisley
  • Skye G. Arthur-Banning


youth sports, program design, program outcomes.


Poor sportsmanship is a serious and growing problem in youth sports. Unpleasant experiences that follow from incidents involving poor sportsmanship can lead children to limit their physical activity, thereby increasing their risk of developing health problems such as obesity and limiting the quality of their lives. In contrast, creating sport experiences that promote sportsmanship can heighten the fun in the activity and encourage children to adopt physical activity as part of their lifestyles. The “Play Hard, Play Fair, Play Fun” (PHPFPF) youth basketball program incorporated elements of prosocial behavior theory to shift the focus from competition to an atmosphere of sportsmanship. Specific techniques were implemented to facilitate sportsmanship behavior among participants and spectators in a youth basketball program, to enhance feelings of cooperation, and to help form relationships among participants on competing teams. Examples of these techniques included pre-game introductions among the players and referees, a signed petition on a large poster board in support of sportsmanship posted prominently outside the gym, large banners and posters promoting sportsmanship on display in the gym, awards to players for good sportsmanship, re-setting the score to zero when the score discrepancy between the two teams became too large, a post-game social event for the players and coaches, and a league website featuring photographs of each team’s weekly sportsmanship award winner. Evaluation data showed that such techniques led to positive feelings from the parents about their children’s sportsmanship attitudes and provided insight into relationships among fun, age, game outcome, and similarity of ability levels of opposing teams. Overall, participants reported higher levels of fun when the game was close (as opposed to a “blow-out”). The negative impact of a blow-out game on fun levels of participants was most severe for the oldest participants who, statistically, are those on the cusp of dropping-out. This suggests that making efforts to promote sportsmanship and to balance the skill and ability levels of teams may be critical components to fun and, thus, continued participation. More generally, results demonstrate the effectiveness of the PHPFPF program in enhancing fun and sportsmanship in youth sports.





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