Shared Table: Being a Good Sport

It’s well documented that as a society, we are experiencing less trust in institutions, politicians, and each other. Consciously or unconsciously, more people than ever are returning to their communities looking for ways to rebuild trust and empathy; hoping to rediscover the shared values that truly make communities stronger. Sports, while not entirely immune to the same recent phenomenon, have always been key in creating social capital — bringing people with different backgrounds and viewpoints, who speak different languages, to the same field of play.

Today there’s an urgent need for a cultural intervention that empowers everyday people to lead healthier and happier lives through the values of sportsmanship. Both on and off the field, at work and play, online and IRL, to build more resilient communities, locally and globally.

This is an area of real passion at enso, so together with our friends at Purpose + Sport and the Sportsmanship Foundation, we convened a dynamic group of sports and community experts, to ignite a movement to propel the values of sportsmanship across culture.

While the conversation has only just begun, we wanted to share some insights that emerged from this Shared Table.

Being a good sport = being a good human

We started off the night by talking about what values make up sportsmanship — respect, integrity, empathy, and unity. What quickly became apparent was being a good sport was just another way of saying being a good person. These values and ideals transcend sport, and should serve as a model for us, not just on the field of play, but in life.

Sports are a container for radical inclusivity

Sports are as close to a universal language as we have. It doesn’t matter what culture you are from or what language you speak. Once you step onto that field, court, or pitch, you are instantly given a way to communicate with your team and your opponent. Through sport, we break barriers and preconceived notions, and we have the opportunity to include everyone. And we need to do a better job of celebrating that.

Being a good sport should come from all angles

It’s important for professional athletes to show good sportsmanship. Lebron James has over 65 million followers on social media and his games are some of the highest watched in all of the NBA. How he acts has an influence on millions of people all over the world. But modeling sportsmanship should not only fall to professional athletes. Far more frequently, youth coaches, parents, referees, staff at events, and the youth sports athletes all have opportunities to reflect the values of sportsmanship in their lives and on the playing field.

Celebrating good behavior

Examples of bad behaviors in sports are often the most visible and talked about. When a golfer throws his club or a basketball player gets ejected, the internet gives them infamy. And the blame doesn’t just fall on the athletes, but also on us as consumers. Good sportsmanship already exists, we just need to put more value on the cultural importance of it. Perhaps instead of cutting away at the end of games to show commercials or talking heads, the broadcast keeps rolling on the hugs, handshakes, and “good games.”

Sportsmanship and performance

Another question we struggled with, was how do we change the perception in culture that sportsmanship inhibits performance? In sports commentary, we often hear of the older generation’s distaste with the friendship among today’s stars. Often, athletes are accused of lacking the predatory instinct that it takes to win. But the reality is that being a good sport doesn’t hurt performance and kindness does not equal weakness. We need to change the cultural conversation around being a good sport and performance, and remember that it’s not just about achieving greatness but about the route you take to get there.

This conversation was just the beginning for us, and the following day we held a design sprint with this group — and more — on the opportunity to create a movement around the values of sportsmanship. We will share more on the outcome of that soon. In the meantime, we would love to hear from others on the importance of sportsmanship and how to propel these values across culture.

Thanks to all our attendees for being a part of the conversation:

Al Kidd / National Association of Sports Commissions
Alice Pang / enso
Andrew Wisniewski / enso 
Anna Christy / Red Bull
Chris Roseman / St. Louis Sports Commission / National Sportsmanship Foundation
Frank Viverito / St. Louis Sports Commission / National Sportsmanship Foundation
Jama Adams / SidePorch 
James Siegal / KaBOOM!
Marc Schrieber / St. Louis Sports Commission / National Sportsmanship Foundation
Neill Duffy / Purpose + Sport
Rebecca Rahm / TEGNA 
Scott Levitan / Google
Sean Knierim / SidePorch 
Sean McNamara / enso
Sebastian Buck / enso
Sherard Clinkscales / Indiana State University
Solomon Alexander / St. Louis Sports Commission / National Sportsmanship Foundation
Todd Fischer / GMR
Tony Ponturo / Ponturo Management Group

And thanks to all the additional attendees who participated in the design sprint:

Jonathan Bays / Sound Posting 
Alan Berkes / Positive Coaching Alliance 
Laura Stein / The Challenged Athletes Foundation 
James Sa / The Challenged Athletes Foundation
Ward Bullard / Verizon Smart Cities Initiative
Mark Lombardi / President of Maryville University (St. Louis)

Thank you to our chef, Ella Freyinger + our photographer, Sarina Cass


enso is a mission-driven creative company. We build mission-driven brands and shared missions. Find us at enso.co and medium.com/enso