The T.E.A.M. approach to sportsmanship

The T.E.A.M. approach to sportsmanship

This four-point strategy for achieving the objectives of the Pursuing Victory With Honor campaign is captured in the acronym T.E.A.M.: Teach, Enforce, Advocate, and Model. These four elements should guide the design of all elements of programs to promote sportsmanship and foster good character as well as guide interactions with athletes, parents, coaches, officials, and spectators.


In order to enhance the character-building and sportsmanship aspects of your sports program it is essential that administrators and coaches consciously and consistently seek to teach how to think and act in ways that develop and demonstrate the Six Pillars of Character: trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship. This is best accomplished by following a coherent plan.


  • Assure that the Pursuing Victory With Honor character-building and sportsmanship objectives are a clearly stated central purpose of your athletic program.
  • Review existing mission and purpose statements.
  • Rewrite to include language from Pursuing Victory With Honor.
  • Ask governing bodies to adopt or recommit to statements stressing character-building and sportsmanship objectives.
  • Put mission statement prominently on all literature.
  • Assure that all coaches, parents, athletes, and officials understand the mission.

Specify. Adopt or incorporate in existing codes the Pursuing Victory With Honor codes of conduct for teacher-coaches, student-athletes, parents/guardians, and other constituencies that specify desired attitudes and conduct and consciously use the T.E.A.M. process and the Six Pillars.

Publicize. Develop a plan to demonstrate pervasive commitment to the principles and goals of the Pursuing Victory With Honor campaign including posters, banners, awards, and written reinforcements on schedules, rosters, descriptive materials, websites, etc.

Integrate. Instruct administrators and coaches to integrate the principles of Pursuing Victory With Honor in:

  • Team selection and recruiting
  • Parent and athlete orientation meetings
  • Game strategies
  • Game recap
  • Continual verbal reinforcement
  • Team rules and discipline actions


Mere teaching and preaching about the ideals of sportsmanship and good character represented by the Six Pillars will not be enough. It is essential that you demonstrate courage and firmness in consistently holding coaches, athletes, parents, and others to those expectations.

Expectations. Establish clear conduct expectations for athletes, coaches, parents, officials, spectators, and others.


  • Reward good conduct and personal development by positive recognition. Firmly discourage bad behavior by immediate correction and prompt discipline.
  • Verbally praise model behavior and correct misbehavior as often as possible with both athletes and coaches.
  • Recognize athletes and coaches who demonstrate exceptional sportsmanship and character after games and in postseason awards.
  • Make demonstrations of good character and sportsmanship a job requirement for coaches and a factor in playing time (e.g., bench players who violate conduct expectations regardless of the competitive situation).
  • Correct parents and spectators who fail to meet expectations through private meetings, letters, announcements, warnings, and ejection from games or practices.


Be a vigorous advocate of character and sportsmanship in everything you say and do. Be clear and uncompromising that you want and expect your athletes to demonstrate the Six Pillars in everything they do. Make it a matter of pride in the team and in oneself.

Team captains. Give team captains special responsibility to promote and encourage teammates to develop a sense of pride.

Comment. Comment on the personal development of athletes and the sportsmanship aspects of every competition regardless of the outcome.


Your lessons about sportsmanship and character will be undermined if you engage in or allow athletes, coaches, parents, officials, or spectators to engage in contradictory conduct.

Role modeling. Assure that everyone representing your athletic program understands the responsibility to be careful and self-conscious about setting a good example by honoring the Six Pillars on and off the field.

Send only positive messages. Everything you say and do – in organizing your team, conducting practices, during the competition, and in post-event commentary – sends messages about your values and character. Be sure these messages are positive and reinforce the mission of your sports program.

Pursuing Victory With Honor

The title of this campaign – “Pursuing Victory With Honor” – makes clear our philosophy that sports best achieves its positive impact on participants and society when everyone plays to win. In fact, without the passionate pursuit of victory much of the enjoyment, as well as the educational and spiritual value, of sports will be lost. Winning is important and trying to win is essential.

Winning is important, but honor is more important. Quality sports programs should not trivialize or demonize either the desire to win or the importance of actually winning. It is disrespectful to athletes and coaches who devote huge portions of their lives to being the best they can in the pursuit of individual victories, records, championships, and medals to dismiss the importance of victory by saying, “It’s only a game.” The greatest value of sports is its ability to enhance the character and uplift the ethics of participants and spectators.

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.

There is no true victory without honor. Cheating and bad sportsmanship are simply not options because they rob victories of meaning and value and replace the inspirational high ideals of true sport with the degrading and petty values of a dog-eat-dog marketplace. Victories attained in dishonorable ways are hollow and degrade the concept of sport.

Ethics and sportsmanship are ground rules. Programs that adopt Pursuing Victory With Honor are expected to take whatever steps are necessary to assure that coaches and athletes are committed to principles of ethics and sportsmanship as ground rules governing the pursuit of victory. Their responsibilities to demonstrate and develop good character must never be subordinated to the desire to win. It is never proper to act unethically to win.

Benefits of sports come from the competition, not the outcome. Quality amateur sports programs are based on the belief that the vital lessons and great value of sports are learned from the honorable pursuit of victory, from the competition itself rather than the outcome. They do not permit coaches or others to send the message that the most important benefits derived from athletic competition can only be achieved when an athlete or a team wins.

Honoring the mission

The Pursuing Victory With Honor project helps interscholastic, intercollegiate, and other youth sports programs better achieve their established missions to promote the physical, mental, social, and moral development of participants. The following are excerpts from various proclamations, mission statements, and codes of conduct. (See a compilation of sports codes of conduct organized by the Six Pillars of Character.)

Pursuing Victory With Honor: The Arizona Sports Summit Accord
Coaches must play a central role in assuring that educational and character-development missions of the institutions they work for are not compromised to achieve sports performance goals and that the academic, emotional, physical, and moral well-being of athletes is always placed above desires and pressures to win. (Arizona Sports Summit Accord ¶9)

National Federation of State High School Associations
[Our mission is] to provide leadership and national coordination for the administration of interscholastic activities which will enhance the educational experiences of high school students and reduce risks of their participation in interscholastic activities in a manner that promotes athletic participation and sportsmanship, develops good citizens by maximizing the achievement of educational goals, and promotes equitable opportunities, positive recognition, and learning experiences.

California Interscholastic Federation
High school students, through participation in athletic-centered interscholastic activities, will develop values, attitudes, and skills for personal growth and the benefit of our multicultural society. In addition, all athletes should have the opportunity “to acquire lifelong skills and to experience the excitement and camaraderie” of athletic competition.

To initiate, stimulate, and improve intercollegiate athletic programs for student-athletes and to promote and develop educational leadership, physical fitness, athletics excellence, and athletic participation as a recreational pursuit.

National Association of Inter-Collegiate Athletics
The purpose of the NAIA is to promote the education and development of students through intercollegiate athletic participation [so that] participation in athletics serves as an integral part of the total educational process.

American Football Coaches Association Code of Ethics
The function of the coach is to educate students through participation in the game of football.

Amateur Athletic Union
To offer a lifelong progression of amateur sports programs of all ages, races, and creeds; to enhance the physical, mental, and moral development of amateur athletes; and to promote good sportsmanship and good citizenship.

The coach as teacher

The profession of coaching is a profession of teaching. In addition to teaching the mental and physical dimensions of their sport, coaches through words and example must also strive to build the character of their athletes by teaching them to be trustworthy, respectful, responsible, fair, caring, and good citizens. (Arizona Sports Summit Accord ¶16)

Sports as a setting for learning.  Sports provides an extraordinary setting for learning. Coaches who identify themselves as teachers (“teacher-coaches”) place heavy emphasis on assuring that the athletic experience supplements and enriches the academic education of student-athletes.

— top of page —