Reasons for Bad Sportsmanship in Adult Recreational Leagues?

I have been a competitive athlete my entire life. I have seen my fair share of bad sportsmanship in all the sports I’ve played and coached. I am hoping that you, the readers, can help explain why adult women playing in recreational leagues demonstrate some of the worst sportsmanship I have encountered (I’m sure it happens in men’s leagues as well, but I can’t speak to that).

Over the weekend I played in the Stick It To Cancer hockey tournament up at the National Sports Center Center in Blaine, MN. I have played in this tournament for a number of years as it is for a good cause and you get to play some fun, relaxed hockey. This weekend however, two of the three teams we played has such bad sportsmanship that it took all the fun out of it. It was so bad I wanted to just skate the bench and not play the rest of the game for fear of being injured. Examples of what I saw and heard:

1. multiple cross checking penalties (which in my opinion are the worst, because you can really get injured)

2. hits after the whistle

3. trash talking such as “Get up you wimp” after a player had been clipped from behind and landed awkwardly on her shoulder

4. hits in open ice away from the puck

Why do people behave this way in a recreational tournament that is FOR CHARITY? We weren’t playing in league play. We weren’t trying out for the Olympics. We were playing for anything but a place in a charity tournament. In fact the WORST behavior I witnessed was in the game my team played for who would be 7th and 8th place out of 8 teams (yes, the toilet bowl game….we lost BTW).  We played hard, but no one really cared if we won or lost. IT WAS FOR FUN. Well that is what I thought anyway.

Possible reasons why this type of behavior persists:

  • people take themselves too seriously
  • the person is just obnoxious on a everyday basis, on and off the ice
  • the person enjoys trying to injure others on purpose
  • the person wants to win at the expense of acting like a gracious and sportsmanlike human being
  • the person’s identity is tied up with the sport, and therefore winning and losing is perceived to be a reflection of themselves
  • Immaturity

Do you have other explanations for this type of behavior? Has this been your experience? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

What everyone should be striving for is more of the attitude of Team Orange, an idea created by a woman I got to play with this weekend Lora Wilkinson. As she writes on the team website, Team Orange is a state of mind. It’s as simple as that. It’s about being a good team player, having a good attitude, supporting others whether they are “on your team” or not. Assuming the best out of folks, being encouraging, positive and constructive. Being benevolent. It is a good intention. It is kindness. Human kindness. Being human, being kind. It’s a life motto.”

Some of the women we played AGAINST this weekend, could learn a lot from the philosophy behind Team Orange. Anyone can be on Team Orange….just adopt the state of mind.

2 Replies to “Reasons for Bad Sportsmanship in Adult Recreational Leagues?”

  1. It was my experience in watching and participating int the tournament, that some teams only play in a couple-three tournaments each year. It may be the only venue to release their competitive emotions. There still is no place for poor sportsmanship at any time, if the competitors have limited opportunities to filter this emotion, it may all come out in these Charity tournaments. Just my thoughts. . .Thanks


  2. As one who enjoyed a short-lived, elite collegiate athletic experience, i find it difficult to participate on sports teams in a leisure context. My discomfort is with two things, a. The violent competitiveness of many participants, and b. The mismatch of my post-competitive desire to “play” with the aforementioned violent competitiveness. As well, i don’t wish to take this outlet away from folks who, for many different reasons, did not have the outlet during their “college days” as i did. It is a conundrum cuz i love to play well and see where my elite skill is now, but if made to choose, i will alwyas choose a peaceful context, less performance oriented and more process oriented . . . Probably why i was a 1 and done college athlete 🙂


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