Training program for U.S. Olympic coaches (Intro)

Training program for U.S. Olympic coaches

Introduction: The impact of sports and the American culture

Sports Values Shape National Values


Many people believe that sports, education, and politics are the three most dominant and pervasive social forces that shape our society and influence the quality and character of American culture.

Impact on values. The love of sports is so deeply embedded in our national consciousness that the values of millions of people – participants and spectators – are directly and dramatically affected by the values conveyed by organized sports. This places a significant social responsibility on those who influence sports (administrators, coaches, athletes, and officials) to assure that athletic competition helps build the character and ethics of participants and spectators. Many aspects of American society are competitive, including our free enterprise system, and our views as to what is permissible and proper in the competitive pursuit of personal goals are influenced strongly by the dominant values of high-profile athletic competition.

Responsibility to uplift. Those who have leadership opportunities and decision-making authority in shaping the values of organized sports have enormous power to uplift and improve the nature and character of our society. With this awesome power comes public responsibility.

The Character of Participants and Society as a Whole

Impact of coaches. While academic and athletic administrators can influence the conduct of student-athletes and spectators, it is the coaches who have the most impact in determining which values are demonstrated and promoted in sports.

Sports values reflect American culture. The values of people who participate in sports, including spectators, not only shape our culture, they reflect it. Thus, people involved in sports should be aware and consider the impact of major social trends that will inevitably affect the values and character of athletes, coaches, and athletic administrators.

Propensities toward violence. Violence by athletes and parents during sporting events and in private lives can be seen as a reflection of the prevalence of violence in popular culture and media.

Drugs and alcohol. Similarly, substance abuse by athletes is part of behavior patterns that characterize much of America’s youth.

Cheating. Even the tendency to cheat in sports with performance-enhancing drugs, recruiting, or rule violations can be seen as an outgrowth of a growing tendency in the population toward dishonesty. For example, according to Josephson Institute studies, 70 percent of high school students and 33 percent of college students say they cheated on an exam within the past year.

Negative actions undermine values. While there is substantial evidence that most participants in sports gain positive life skills and develop qualities that strengthen their character, there is a widespread perception that sports has a negative impact. This perception is created by highly publicized instances of misconduct by prominent collegiate and professional athletes and coaches including:

  • On-field cheating: use of performance-enhancing drugs, equipment tampering, and violations of recruiting, eligibility. and other rules

  • Unsportsmanlike conduct: fighting, pushing officials, taunting, disrespectful celebrating, and other forms of bad sportsmanship

  • Illegal or unseemly off-field conduct: academic cheating, assaults, thefts, and sexual misconduct that sends negative messages to youth.

  • Commercialization: a preoccupation of athletes, coaches, team organizations, and the media with the financial and business aspects of athletic competition that diminishes the dignity of sports

  • Spectator misconduct: violent and disrespectful behavior of spectators, especially parents at youth sporting events, revealing win-at-any-cost values that corrode the ideals of honorable competition

Legitimate Concerns of Insiders

Insiders are concerned. There is widespread concern that sports are not playing the positive role they can and should play in building and showcasing good character.

Citizenship Through Sports Alliance. In 1999, the Citizenship Through Sports Alliance, a collaboration of most major collegiate and professional sports organizations, stated: “[There is] a worrisome decline in sportsmanship and ethical conduct in sports, a deterioration that permeates sports competition from the youth leagues to the professional leagues. The breakdown in sportsmanship extends beyond the courts and fields [and] involves athletes, their families, coaches, officials, fans, institutional administrators, corporate sponsors, the media, and the public at large.”

Arizona Sports Summit Accord. Driven by these concerns as well as a belief that sports organizations should place greater emphasis on the ethical and character-building potential of sports, the USOC Coaching Division sponsored with CHARACTER COUNTS! Sports (a project of the nonprofit Josephson Institute) a summit meeting of leaders in Olympic, university, interscholastic, and youth sports in May 1999. At this conference in Scottsdale, Arizona, participants drafted and issued the Arizona Sports Summit Accord, a statement of 16 principles that establish clear standards of what it means to pursue victory with honor. The Accord has been widely endorsed by prominent sports figures and adopted by most major sports organizations including the American Football Coaches Association, NCAA Division IA Athletic Directors Association, the NAIA, and many state interscholastic associations.

Putting Winning in Perspective

Despite these concerns, the CHARACTER COUNTS! Sports initiative known as Pursuing Victory With Honor is not premised on negative assumptions about sports. Rather, it’s grounded in the conviction that “you don’t have to be sick to get better.” An explicit focus on the character-building aspects of athletic competition and the ethical dimensions of sport can benefit all programs.

Honor is more important than winning. Pursuing Victory With Honor programs enhance the character and uplift the ethics of the nation.

Striving to win. Although the program stresses how win-at-any-cost strategies inevitably degrade sports, it doesn’t trivialize or devalue the desire to win or the importance of winning.

Winning is important. For athletes and coaches who devote huge portions of their lives to being the best they can be in the pursuit of individual victories, records, championships, and medals, it is demeaning to dismiss the importance of victory by saying “it’s only a game.” Winning is important. Trying to win is essential. Without the passionate pursuit of victory, much of the enjoyment as well as the educational and spiritual value of sports would be lost.

Ethics is essential to true winning. The best strategy to improve sports is not to de-emphasize winning but to more vigorously emphasize that adherence to ethical standards and sportsmanship in the honorable pursuit of victory is essential to winning in its true sense. It is one thing to be declared the winner; it is quite another to really win. Victories attained in dishonorable ways are hollow and degrade the concept of sport.

Cheating and bad sportsmanship are not options. We believe cheating and bad sportsmanship are not options because they rob victories of meaning and value and replace the high ideals of true sport with the degrading and petty values of a dog-eat-dog marketplace.

Principles of ethics and sportsmanship are ground rules. The responsibility to demonstrate and develop good character should never be subordinated to the desire to win. Principles of ethics and sportsmanship are ground rules governing the pursuit of victory. The vital lessons and great value of sports are learned from the honorable pursuit of victory, from the competition itself rather than the outcome.

The Six Pillars of Character. The first principle of the Arizona Sports Summit Accord provides a clear framework of values and a common language describing the important but elusive concepts of ethics and sportsmanship: “The essential elements of character-building and ethics in sports are embodied in the concept of sportsmanship and six core principles: trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship. The highest potential of sports is achieved when competition reflects these Six Pillars of Character.”

top of page | table of contents | mission »