That's Not Sporting!

Isn't poor sportsmanship OK when you know you're right?

Dec 12, 2007 at 4:00 am

It's hard to think of a more unsportsmanlike act than 23-year-old Tonya Harding hiring a thug to attack rival Nancy Kerrigan prior to the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. But could it be that Harding's experience as a child athlete conditioned her to cheat? That's what University of Missouri-St. Louis professor David Shields set out to discover in a new study that found child athletes (fifth through eighth graders) are greatly influenced by the poor sportsmanship exhibited by their coaches and adult spectators.

Unreal: Your findings appear in an article titled "Predictors of Poor Sportspersonship in Youth Sports." Does the term "sportspersonship" mean more girls than boys are poor sports?

David Shields: I wouldn't say that. We found more poor sportsmanship among boys than girls, but the difference was not that great.

How does a fifth-grader trash-talk? Is it like, "I'm so going to kick your ass in four-square!"

You go to any playground, you're going to hear quite a bit of trash talking. Most of it is harmless teasing. The problem arises when schools compete against each other. Often what is initially seen as teasing gets taken seriously and escalates.

What's the biggest cheating scandal to rock the world of elementary-school athletics?

Probably the most famous one has to do with the Little League World Series a few years back. The winning pitcher was found to be older than he reported to be.

Last year a parent in O'Fallon was shot with a Taser after he became enraged by a referee's call during his young son's football game. Based on your study, is that man's son destined to be a poor sport?

That would be extrapolating a bit far from our data. But if you want a personal opinion, I'd say by all means.

What if the father was right and the referee really did blow the call? Isn't poor sportsmanship OK when you know you're right?

I certainly don't think so. One of the things we know is when there are questionable calls, both sides believe they are correct. Besides, there are formal ways of protesting bad officiating — though I don't know how applicable that is to fifth-grade games.

Any plans to take your findings to professional sports? The Oakland Raiders or Portland Jail Breakers — er, Trail Blazers might learn a thing or two.

The difficulty with professional sports is they are part of the entertainment industry. Sports commentators hype rivalries to build viewership. They like controversies. It's hard to overcome that culture. 

Old School

Get this: In 1969 approximately half of all American schoolchildren walked or bicycled to school. Nowadays fewer than 15 percent of 'em arrive via the sidewalk. That'll change if Amy Eyler gets her way. The Saint Louis University professor recently co-authored an article in Health Education Research that explores ways to encourage more students to walk to school.

Unreal: Why aren't kids walking to school anymore?

Eyler: A lot of schools are consolidating, and kids can't walk all the way to the new school. Some schools no longer employ crossing guards. Also, to get to school the children may have to travel hazardous routes, like crossing major intersections. There is also a lot of fear about other perceived dangers.

A company in Massachusetts now offers bulletproof backpacks for schoolkids. Do you think such backpacks would be a good investment for children in St. Louis?

I don't know. I would hope we wouldn't need those here. We suggest kids walk in groups or with an adult guardian.

Who's more responsible for children not walking to school: fat kids or their even-fatter parents?

We quote in our article that we see parents drop their kids off wearing exercise clothes for the gym. Wouldn't they rather get exercise walking their kids to school than by using the treadmill?

You suggest that children who ride the bus be dropped off a mile from school and forced to walk the rest of the way. In today's world couldn't that be considered a form of child abuse?

Well, it's not like we're dumping them off two miles away. There's a school in Columbia that drops its students off a quarter-mile from the building. We've found that making kids walk even that short of a way helps them concentrate. It gets the wiggles out.

What if it's raining?

A little rain never killed anyone.

Yeah, but what if the route is uphill — both ways?

Then you're going to have to ask your grandpa how he did it. 

Local Blog O' the Week

"Cat and Muse"
Author: Michelle Clinard Wagner
About the blogger: Michelle is a St. Louisan living abroad in Discovery Bay, Hong Kong, with her husband, Cybrpunk. And cats.
Recent Highlight (December 7): Another Day, Another Castration

I caught a black and white male feral cat today. Well, barely a cat. He's more of a full grown kitten, he can't be more then 8-10 months old. Of course, that is just old enough for a cat to have the desire to impregnate the entire feral population.

He is Little Mustache (son and close replica of his father Mr. Mustache, as I have named them). They both are black and white and both have a black mustache. It really is cute, but in a Hitler-style mustache way (only less menacing since they are cuddly and fuzzy and Hitler, well, not so much). Oh, and it is pronounced MOOSE-tache because I made up the names and I said so.

I just came back from SPCA with him and he is bleeding a bit. I placed him on the balcony (caged) for a rest and to be sure he stops bleeding before I return him to his colony.

While I was ferrying between Discovery Bay and Mui Wo, I was pondering the idea that I live on an island. I am an island dweller, if you please. I never believed that I wouldn't be landlocked, having come from St. Louis, Missouri, United States and having lived in the state of Missouri my entire life. Being landlocked had just become a norm for me. I came to expect land on all sides and now I have water on all sides. Nearly every where I travel in Hong Kong there is water in view and if not, well it is just a short walk or bus ride away.

I think it is kinda cool being an island dweller, although if I were to imagine myself an island dweller it would be more tropical and with a bit of white sand. And don't forget the coconuts. There are many more coconuts in my head. Take that however you wish. It is the funniest thing I have said all day...

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