I was recently asked by a reader if I thought that the US Ice Hockey team were poor sports because they looked really unhappy and upset after their silver medal finish and loss to Team Canada. Shouldn’t they have been smiling on the medal stand and pleased with their second place finish?
Losing a really big game, match or race, or falling short of a critically important goal that you have been working towards for a long time will always bring up any number of predictable emotions right after the event. Anger, disappointment, frustration, sadness, tears and even jealousy are commonly experienced by athletes and teams immediately following an emotionally tough failure. As emotions go, these are absolutely normal and appropriate to the situation.
The fact that the loss hurts right after the event is over makes perfect sense and is an indication that you were physically and emotionally invested in your quest and that you cared. It would be really weird if you spent years and months preparing for a huge performance and then right after you came up short, you felt absolutely nothing other than a sense of, “whatever!” Caring and hurting after a failure doesn’t make you a poor sport!
The more important question here is, What do you do with those internal emotions?” Do you keep them inside and recognize that they belong to you and you alone? Or do you “share” them the way Russian men’s figure skater and defending gold medalist Evgeni Plushenko did when he was “robbed” of his gold medal in Vancouver. “I am not prepared to skate well and lose” he said after his long program. “This is men’s figure skating, not ice dancing. I was positive that I won.”
This crack was a less than veiled reference to the program skated by the eventual gold medalist, Evan Lysacek, a program which lacked the quad jump that Plushenko had done in his program. Feeling bad about losing doesn’t make you a poor sport. Acting out your bad feelings in public the way Plushenko did does!
Two summers ago at Wimbledon, World #1 tennis player Roger Federer lost to Rafael Nadal in a tough 5 set match. Federer was in tears afterwards and showed that in his post match interview. Did that emotional display make him a sore loser? A poor sport? Hardly! Federer is truly a class act and doesn’t make excuses whenever he loses, doesn’t blame his opponent, the weather or the linesmen. He takes full responsibility and even goes out of his way to compliment and congratulate his winning opponent. However, that doesn’t mean that Federer has to like the losing or doesn’t have any strong feelings about it because he does!
A poor sport is someone who takes the emotions that go with losing and “shares” them with everyone around. They put the winner down, claim that their opponent’s victory was either lucky or not deserved (like Plushenko did), bad mouth the game officials or media, and in many other ways, distinguish themselves as immature asses.
On an amateur level, a poor sport will turn on his winning opponent, talk behind his back, try to get others on his side to do the same in a lame attempt to punish the winner for beating him. He will act out his own feelings of defeat and jealousy by attempting to scapegoat and emotionally hurt the winner.
This is what being a poor sport is really all about. It’s not about feeling disappointed, frustrated, angry or sad. It’s what you as an athlete and a person do with those feelings. Good sports suck those feelings up, congratulate the winner and eventually put the loss and their disappointment behind them. Bad sports simply make fools of themselves!