Striving for real sportsmanship in a reality show world

Horse shows provide great opportunity to teach good sportsmanship.

Today’s world seems obsessed with reality shows. From “Jersey Shore” to the “Kardashians”, or reality contests like “Survivor” or the “Amazing Race”, people tune in by the millions each week to see what happens next in a (supposedly) unscripted environment. A research based article on reports that these shows are very popular with those in the 18-34 age range, which is also a relatively large segment of the horse show world. We know that there are positive outcomes from showing horses, but the potential for negative behaviors is also present.

There is no commonly held definition of sportsmanship in the horse show world, but respect is a huge component regardless of sport. Work by Clifford and Feezell in traditional sports like soccer has developed a respect based definition of sportsmanship. This definition has been modified by Michigan State University Extension to include horses. Respect for horses, opponents, respect for the “game”, and respect for others including judges, show management, parents, trainers and coaches are the keys to sportsmanship detailed in the Michigan 4-H Horse and Pony Project Show Rules and Regulations.

Not every reality show focuses on the downside of human behavior, however. In fact, some researchers suggest that shows such as the “Biggest Loser” or “Extreme Home Makeover” may actually inspire people to help others or lead a healthier lifestyle. According to Clifford and Feezell, just a few of the potential action steps toward developing real sportsmanship include:

  • Being a good role model.
  • Emphasize sportsmanship from the beginning.
  • Talk about combining the fact that competitive activity is serious fun, and that bad sportsmanship is typically a matter of being too serious or not serious enough.
  • Discuss the relationship between good sportsmanship and success – a victory without respect, dignity and honor doesn’t mean much.
  • Regularly use words like respect and sportsmanship when talking with exhibitors.
  • Expect sportsmanship in practice and competition.
  • Establish customs or traditions that emphasize sportsmanship and be specific about how you expect exhibitors to relate to one another, opponents, officials, their horses etc.
  • Develop clear guidelines for handling unsportsmanlike behavior, and share them with competitors and their families.
  • Talk about specific incidents of sportsmanship and promote reflectiveness by asking questions.
  • Emphasize fun!

By keeping the values described in this article in mind, along with modeling, teaching, and expecting others to practice them, we can highlight the fact that under the right conditions, horse shows actually are a place to practice real sportsmanship in a reality show world.

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