Class Is In

This month, I’m going to touch on a subject many of you will not agree with me on… and that’s okay. I often think it is because I’m older than most and come from a different time. I get that. But some of you need to hear it. Mike Hinman touched on this in his recent summary of the NXL semi pro division. Operative words being “touched on” as I certainly don’t want to speak for Mike. Although I have a sneaky suspicion he would get where I am coming from.

I can hear my friend Grayson Goff saying, “Okay Boomer” … Gen X btw 😉

Truth – it’s out there.

Let’s talk sportsmanship or what I like to call, having some class and WHY it’s important.
Sportsmanship or showing class is simply when competitors treat one another with respect and behave in an appropriate manner before, during, and after their competition. It could also be defined as being fair and ethical (that last word I fear has lost it’s meaning these days – go ask any journalist) to those you’re playing against (and with).

***Zen note*** this can and should apply to fans, supporters, parents, and coaches as well.

Let’s get something out of the way right now. Sportsmanship doesn’t mean taking it easy on the other team. Look, we play an aggressive sport. Hell, we “shoot” our opponents to eliminate them. It’s part of the game. There is a line though, as there is no need for disrespect or malicious intent. Me, personally, am from the camp of “Be nice… until it’s time not to be nice” or “Don’t start nothin’ and there won’t be nothin'”.

“Self-praise is for losers. Be a winner. Stand for something. Always have class, and be humble.” – John Madden

Have you ever noticed why so many people use sports as a metaphor for so many different things, especially life in general? Because the traits required to be successful in sports translate almost directly to being successful in anything we do. Think about it. Skill sets are honed with hard work, discipline, determination, sacrifice… all things you need to be successful in the “real world”. Whether you’re a ditch digger or a corporate executive, if you bring these traits to your job, you will not only perform well, you will be noticed and advance.

“A lot of young players don’t really know much about the history of the game and a lot of them are missing out on what the game is all about, especially the whole concept of sportsmanship and teamwork.” – Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

I’m sure you have all hear that, “Good things happen to good people”. I truly believe that and not just because of my Christian beliefs, upbringing, and environment. I’ve seen it. No, we won’t go down the rabbit hole of what signifies “good people”. How about starting with being a good sport, being kind and respectful to one another, having fun… that sort of thing? There is already plenty of ugly in the world.

On the way to shake hands and showing appreciation to family, friends, and fans.

Here’s where I use a word that some misunderstand all too often. Integrity. A classy player has integrity and shows respect. He is honest and treats those around him the way he wishes to be treated. He is about the team, unselfish, humble in victory, and understanding/honorable in defeat. This is what it means to be a man really.
All of this contributes to being a good human being. We used to have a saying, “Excellence through integrity”. It wasn’t easy being the “good guy” in paintball. It still isn’t. Trust me, I’ve almost cleared the benches a time or two but I always knew it wouldn’t solve anything. We had to be the bigger men… especially walking the walk and talking the talk we had chosen.

I’ve seen a man cry because he lost a paintball match. I’ve seen young men win only to disrespect their humbled opponent viciously. In both instances, the player(s) instead of appreciating the moment for what it was, they poisoned and cheapened it. See, being classy enhances the experience for both groups of competitors. The team that is defeated is shown respect by the victor. Both can learn from the experience and both can be examples for others. Those of you who weep and moan and those of you who gloat… you’re both weak and have learned only how to be weak. You’re sadists. You have enhanced nothing but an ego. The ego of a jack ass. And make no mistake, that’s how you are seen by the majority around you (or maybe you’re not, maybe I’m the minority – and I’m fine with that.)

Here are my simple rules for being classy. Be positive, be a good teammate, show respect, and play with integrity. The end.

“Sometimes I think sportsmanship is a little bit forgotten in place of the individual attention.” – Cal Ripken, Jr.

To the trash talkers out there – especially the ones who continue to do so after you and your team just got trounced – you’re a joke. But I get it. You’re probably the more talented player on your team and feel you need everyone to see it. Maybe if you spent all that energy helping make and mold your teammates into better players, your team wouldn’t be getting dismantled. Every team I have ever coached or played with, we let our game speak for us. You want your game to speak for you? Shut your mouth and get to work practicing. Or maybe you don’t contribute at all, you actually suck, are a practice all-star, and so you verbalize and vocalize to make up for the fact you are an inadequate dweeb. Doesn’t matter to me. You still suck no matter how loud you get.

You can yip and yaw all you want. Look at the score board knucklehead. That’s ALL that needs to be said.

Shaking hands after a good match

Look, as with any sport, there is going to be a winner and a loser. Sometimes your team will be in the latter category. Be a man when it happens, shake your opponent’s hand after the game, give them a “good game” or “well done” and friggin’ move on. LEARN! If you are the winner, show some respect, and do the same.

“I follow three rules: Do the right thing, do the best you can, and always show people you care.” – Lou Holtz

An important measure of how to win or lose with class is to simply put things into perspective. It’s a game. Yes, we are all passionate about it but at the end of the day, you’re still breathing, you’re still alive, and will have the opportunity to improve and do it all over again. So relax.

We need to respect the refs too. Even when they make a bad call. I know, I know. Hear me out. Understand that, bad calls will happen and guess what? Sometimes those bad calls will go in your favor! Now, some self-critique here as I had an issue at the recent NXL with a head ref. Don’t get me wrong, I was respectful when he wasn’t. However, to his character, he recognized he was out of line, calmed down, apologized, and we had a good conversation afterwards. It was difficult for me to respect him at first, I will admit. He was aggressive and didn’t really supply good rationale for his call(s) or seem to have a complete understanding of the rule-book. I recognized almost immediately the calls weren’t going to be overturned, but I saw it as an opportunity to provide critique to HELP him for the next time. It was the end of the day, this guy was hot from high temps, tired, thirsty, hungry, and had been shot A LOT. Always recognize that and take it into perspective. Those guys aren’t paid enough and in a lot of cases not really trained enough.

“Show me a guy who’s afraid to look bad, and I’ll show you a guy you can beat every time.”- Lou Brock

Now might be a good time to have a bit of an ethics lesson (you all caught me in a mood). Real quick, let’s sum up ethics in paintball. So, there is sportsmanship and then there is gamesmanship. I have talked with many of you and there is a portion who most certainly fall in the category of employing gamesmanship as opposed to sportsmanship. Hey, we have all been guilty of it. There is a difference. Allow me to elaborate: You’re the guy/gal who believes that winning is everything. “You ain’t tryin’ if you ain’t cheatin!” “It’s only cheatin’ if you get caught!” “It’s the refs job to catch me!”. Get the idea? These are the same people who smack talk too when they are losing.

Consoling the opponent after a hard loss (this is not necessary, but I knew the guy)

In other words, you are more concerned about the outcome of the game rather than the manner in which it was won or lost. I believe the argument FOR gamesmanship is called “bracketed morality”. This is the concept that sports are NOT aligned with the real world and that morality or ethics should not apply. These are the people who would say that sports serve as a way to get out aggression, that it serves our primal instincts to win or conquer. Whereas I am not totally opposed to an aspect of this (getting out aggression) it is the level of commitment to this concept that needs to be checked. “He’s a beast on the field but a real gentleman off of it”. Okay… I’ll give you that. However, one who plays honorably and gives his opponent an honorable yet tough (and fair) game is the real “beast” in my book.

“Show class, have pride, and display character. If you do, winning takes care of itself.” – Bear Bryant

And that’s my point. A classy player or coach is focusing on things like honor and virtue and integrity. He trusts his teammates; he respects his opponent. This type of player or team is one that is not only interested in winning but doing so by giving their best effort and more than likely, will have more longevity. And probably more success as well.

If I had to define ethics in paintball, it would boil down to 3 things:

  • Integrity
  • Responsibility
  • Respect

Integrity in paintball would require players/coaches to take responsibility for their actions in all aspects on and off the field. When a team loses, the right thing to do is not point or blame but to recognize the aspects of the game that you can control and work on. What about your performance that day could you have done better?

Responsibility should mean that you have trained appropriately and are at the skill level (Ex: playing in the appropriate division) you need to be to compete and that you know the rules of the game. It should also encompass how you present yourself and represent your team (your behavior).

Respect is just that, respecting your teammates, your opponents, your coach, and the refs.

I’ll say it again, sports are meant to not only test our capabilities but ultimately to build character. The first one is important as it can teach us a lot about ourselves. The second is more important as it will mold us and hopefully, God willing, make us better people.

Be water my friends.

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