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Why We're So Bad At Being Good Sports (And How We Can Get Better)

Gabriel C. Pérez
Junice and Rock Rockman.

The new school year is well underway, and that means the new football season is, too. And midterm elections are coming up soon. It seems like whether our team or our candidate loses, people have a harder time being good sports – or gracious losers – these days.

"Losing is not cool," says Central Texas certified life and relationship coach Rock Rockman. "It doesn't feel good."

We can probably all agree on that. But why can losing trigger such a volatile response in some people?

Junice and Rock Rockmanare both life and relationship coaches. Junice says those responses, which can emerge as behavior such as bad sportsmanship, occur when we link our identity and self-worth to winning or losing.

"Sometimes we take these losses in sports or in other spaces and we personalize them," Junice Rockman says. " And we make it a loss about who we are as a human being, who were are, how we show up in the world."

Paraphrasing Rudyard Kipling's poem "If," Rockman says one way to break the cycle of bad sportsmanship is to refrain from loading so much meaning onto the outcome of any particular event.

"Treat criticism and compliments the same. Treat victory and loss the same," she recommends.

It might be tempting to think that the "everyone gets a trophy" mentality would be a way to encourage healthier competition and better sportsmanship. But Rock believes otherwise.

"[The winners] weren't able establish themslves as the better group," he says. "And then the kids that actually lost, how can they learn to be better if they got the trophy as well?"

Listen to the full interview with the Rockmans about noticing, managing and changing "unsportsmanlike" conduct on and off the field.

Jennifer Stayton is the local host for NPR's "Morning Edition" on KUT. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on X @jenstayton.
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