20 Sportsmanship Quotes You Should Tell Your Children

20 Sportsmanship Quotes You Should Tell Your Children

Athletes are known to get competitive with one another, but sportsmanship quotes teach us how to compete and contest without losing respect for your teammates or opponents. It’s one of the universal rules that athletes must follow – though sometimes athletes need a slight reminder. 

According to Merriam-Webster, sportsmanship is defined as “conduct (such as fairness, respect for one’s opponent, and graciousness in winning or losing) becoming to one participating in a sport.” Sportsmanship is necessary for sustaining and maintaining integrity in every sport.

In most sports, teams and players are subject to one of three outcomes – a win, a loss, or a tie. While everyone wants to win, not everyone will win. With sportsmanship at the forefront of all sports, players must show respect for one another no matter what outcome they experience.  

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Sportsmanship Quotes Worth Memorizing

20 Sportsmanship Quotes You Should Tell Your Children
Eugene Onischenko / Shutterstock

Sportsmanship is something we learn – it’s not something that comes naturally. From a young age, we’re born to be competitive and we hate when things don’t go our way. As we age, we learn to take the good with the bad and understand that a loss is nothing more than a lesson. 

I don’t know about you, but a lot of the sportsmanship within me was learned through various sportsmanship quotes that I came across growing up. Sportsmanship quotes helped me understand what sportsmanship is and what it means to be a good teammate and opponent. 

With that said, I’d like to share with you some of my all-time favorite sportsmanship quotes that are worth memorizing and one day reciprocating to your children. They’re sportsmanship quotes that will make you rethink your attitude towards winning, losing, and playing the sport you love.

20.  “Winning isn’t everything, but wanting to win is.” – Vince Lombardi

Vince Lombardi is a legendary Hall of Fame head coach that spent 10 seasons with the Green Bay Packers in the NFL. During that time, he won 5 NFL titles, two Super Bowls, and had a coaching record of 105-35-6. He’s one of the most-quoted NFL head coaches of all-time. 

Let’s be honest, we all love winning and that’s always the end goal, but that’s not always the outcome. Sometimes, you’re going to lose and it might not even be close. What truly matters, though, is that you put in 100% effort and you proved to yourself that you wanted to win. 

19. “I think sportsmanship is knowing that it is a game, that we are only as good as our opponents, and whether you win or lose, to always give 100 percent.” – Sue Wicks

Sue Wicks is a Hall of Fame female basketball player that spent six seasons with the New York Liberty after a legendary career at Rutgers. She won the 2000 Kim Perrot Sportsmanship Award and is one of the greatest shot blockers in WNBA history. She also played internationally. 

She reminds us that while sports are a career to some people, it’s important not to forget that it’s just a game. We can go out there and expect greatness from ourselves, but that doesn’t mean we’re guaranteed anything. So long as we give 100% every single day, then life is good. 

18. “One man practicing sportsmanship is far better than a hundred teaching it.” – Knute Rockne

Knute Rockne is a legendary college football head coach that spent 13 seasons with the Notre Dame Fighting Irish before his sudden death in 1930. During his time as head coach, he led Notre Dame to six National Championships, a 105-12-5 record, and five unbeaten seasons. 

Essentially, Rockne is saying that a hundred people teaching sportsmanship is great, but those people are teaching it – they aren’t necessarily practicing it. Until you get that one person (and hopefully many more) that actually practices it, all that teaching would have been for nothing. 

17. “Class always shows.” – Paul Brown

Paul Brown is a legendary football head coach that spent 17 seasons coaching the Cleveland Browns and eight more coaching the Cincinnati Bengals. He had a career 213-104-9 record and was a four-time AAFC Champion, three-time NFL Champion, and was inducted into the HOF.

Sportsmanship and class go hand in hand. The only way to truly showcase both is through your actions. When you finally start to act on it, people will take notice. And when people start to take notice, that class and sportsmanship will start to reciprocate – that’s when progress is made. 

16. “Golf is a game of respect and sportsmanship; we have to respect its traditions and its rules.” – Jack Nicklaus

Jack Nicklaus is a legendary professional golfer and world-renowned golf course designer. He turned pro in 1961 and his career lasted over 40 years. During that time, he totaled 117 wins as a pro, including 73 PGA Tour wins, and 18 major championships. He’s one of the best all-time.

Nicklaus is right that golf is a game of sportsmanship. In fact, it’s one of the most respectful and respected sports in the entire world. It’s a game of tradition and a game of rules – sometimes hidden rules, but rules nonetheless. Learning to respect and appreciate the rules is mandatory. 

15. “Victory is remembered for at most two decades; an act of good sportsmanship is remembered for a lifetime.”  – Simon Nguyen

When’s the last time you won something? The last time you experienced the smell of sweet victory? In a perfect world, we would taste victory on a daily basis and would never have to face defeat. Unfortunately, the world doesn’t work like that and we have to be a little more realistic. 

While most people believe winning is what’s most important, think again. Winning is something you’ll remember forever, but it’s something others will eventually forget. If you truly want to make your mark on this world, be a good sportsman and play out of respect – that’ll be remembered!

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

Cal Ripken Jr. is a legendary shortstop that spent 21 seasons in the MLB – all of which with the Baltimore Orioles. He’s a two-time MVP, Rookie of the Year, World Series champion, eight-time Silver Slugger, two-time Gold Glove winner, Home Run Derby champion, and HOF player. 

Most of us get so attached to our individual glory that we forget sports are more than that. Not only are there thousands of other athletes out there with the same goals as you, but those people are attached to their individual glory. This is why sportsmanship is underappreciated.\\

13. “After I hit a home run I had a habit of running the bases with my head down. I figured the pitcher already felt bad enough without me showing him up rounding the bases.” – Mickey Mantle

Mickey Mantle is a legendary outfielder that spent 18 seasons with the New York Yankees in the MLB. He was a three-time MVP, 20-time All-Star, seven-time World Series champion, Triple Crown winner, and even won a batting title. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1974. 

Mantle was a man that took sportsmanship and class very seriously – so much that he hated to celebrate a home run because he didn’t want to make the pitcher feel bad. After all, the pitcher already felt pretty bummed that he gave up a home run. There’s no need to brag or be cocky. 

12. “I never thought about losing, but now that it’s happened, the only thing is to do it right.” – Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali is one of the most recognizable and dominant boxers in the history of the sport. He made 18 appearances on the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine, which is the second most by an athlete all-time. He’s one of the greatest heavyweights of all-time with a 56-5-0 record. 

Ali didn’t like to lose, much like any athlete. In fact, he never even thought about losing – that is, until his 1971 loss to Joe Frazier. At the time, Ali was 31-0 and seemed unstoppable. He might’ve never thought of losing, but when he finally did, he decided to do it with complete class.

11. “Win as if you were used to it, lose as if you enjoyed it for a change.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ralph Waldo Emerson wasn’t an athlete and is only one of three non-athletes on this list. He was an American poet, philosopher, thinker, and essayist that played a major role in the development of romanticism and transcendentalism. He was quite an elegant poet at the time.

Emerson does an excellent job of portraying the meaning behind sportsmanship in as few words as possible. Win like you’ve been there before – it shows maturity and shows how humble you are. You should also lose as if you enjoyed it – that shows an even higher level of maturity. 

10. “When you win, say nothing. When you lose, say less.” – Paul Brown

This is the second time Paul Brown is being featured on this list, showing just how important sportsmanship quotes are to the legendary head coach. It’s a similar quote to the last one by Ralph Waldo Emerson, but captures the big picture in a different way – a more elegant way.

When we win, our initial instincts tell us to be loud, obnoxious, cocky, and proud. While that’s understandable, it’s not the greatest way to show off how much of a sportsman you are. Instead say nothing and embrace the moment for what it is. And when you lose, say even less than that!

9. “Win or lose, do it fairly.” – Knute Rockne

Paul Brown isn’t the only legendary football coach worth quoting multiple times with inspiring sportsmanship quotes. Knute Rockne has a ton of good quotes to his name and there are several that won’t be featured on this list – unfortunately. He always knew the words to say.

Rockne put it as simply as you can – it doesn’t matter what the outcome of the game, do it fairly. Don’t cheat yourself, don’t cheat the opponent, and don’t cheat the sport. Be righteous in everything you do and take pride in your ability to do the right thing when no one is looking. 

8. “I would prefer even to lose with honor than to win by cheating.” – Sophocles

There were only three Ancient Greek tragedians that had their work preserved over the past several thousand years – Sophocles was one. He embodied what sportsmanship meant and explained it perfectly in one sentence – the same sentence that’s written above in that quote. 

Known for his ability to create characters unlike other play writers of his time. While he wasn’t an athlete, he entered into dozens of playwright competitions. He didn’t always win (he won 24 of the 30 he entered), but he did make sure to compete with class and sportsmanship. 

7. “Victory is in the quality of competition and not the final score.” – Mike Marshall

Mike Marshall was a former Cy Young winner that spent 14 seasons as a pitcher in the MLB. He finished his career with a 97-112 record and had five seasons with more than 10 wins – including a career-high 15 wins in 1974. He also made two All-Star appearances in his career. 

Marshall was right. The final score isn’t what’s most important. Sure, winning is fun and it’ll make you feel good, but there’s more to sports than that because you can gain just as much from a good, quality, competitive loss as you can in an easy, effortless, and lazy victory. 

6. “I can accept failure. Everyone fails at something. But I can’t accept not trying.” – Michael Jordan

We all know who Michael Jordan is. He’s widely regarded as one of the greatest basketball players of all-time. During his 15-year career, he won six championships (two three-peats), was a 14-time All-Star, five-time MVP, Rookie of the Year, and Defensive Player of the Year. 

Failure plays a large role in every single one of our lives. It’s something we can’t avoid in life and is something that will haunt us sooner or later. And that’s okay because there’s nothing wrong with failure – so long as it was met with an honest effort. Just because you fail, doesn’t mean you can’t be proud. 

5. “It is your response to winning and losing that makes you a winner or a loser.” – Harry Sheehy

Harry Sheehy is the former athletic director at Dartmouth and was once the head coach and athletic director at Williams College. He theorized that it wasn’t necessarily the outcome of the game that determined the winner or lose. Instead, it was how that team responded that matters.

If you were to be loud and obnoxious after a win, you aren’t going to look like a very good sportsman. On the other hand, if you were loud and obnoxious during a loss, you’ll likely be viewed the same, if not worse. Instead, you should always be respectful and honorable. 

4. “The greatest test of courage on earth is to bear defeat without losing heart.” – Robert Green Ingersoll

Robert Green Ingersoll, also known as The Great Agnostic, was a prominent figure during the Golden Age of Free Thought. He was primarily a lawyer and writer that fought for the defense of agnosticism. He was born on August 11, 1833 and died at 65 years old on July 21, 1889. 

Victory is always the goal, but defeat is often the outcome. While that’s true in many cases, defeat doesn’t have to weigh you down and it certainly doesn’t have to result in a loss of heart. Instead, it should strengthen that bond and make you yearn for victory even more than before. 

3. “The mark of great sportsmen is not how good they are at their best, but how good they are at their worst.” – Martina Navratilova

Martina Navratilova is a legendary and talented Hall of Fame female tennis player that won 369 titles, 59 major championships, and was a 26-time Finalist. She had a career record of 2,189-362, which included a singles record of 1,442-219 and a doubles record of 747-143. 

Most people are interested in seeing how people act, behave, and carry themselves in the face of victory. While that is important in its own right, many would argue that it’s how you act, behave, and carry yourself in the face of defeat. That’s when true character is known to shine. 

2. “Sportsmanship is not just about being nice. It is much more important than that. It’s about realizing that you could not compete without an opponent and that she has the same goals as you.” – Stephanie Deibler

Many people believe being a good sportsman requires you to be a good person and to be genuinely nice. While that certainly plays a big role in it, that doesn’t mean it’s the only thing that matters and it’s often much more than just that. It takes a deeper level of respect for the game.

You have to learn to realize that you’re not the only one out there competing. Your opponent often has the same goal as you and is willing to put in any amount of effort to achieve it. It doesn’t matter who wins or loses, but one person will be victorious and the other will not. 

1. “Sportsmanship for me is when a guy walks off the court and you really can’t tell whether he won or lost, when he carries himself with pride either way.” – Jim Courier

Jim Courier is a Hall of Fame male tennis player that was a four-time major champion and three-time finalist. He won 29 career titles and had a 68.1% winning percentage (630-334 record), which included a 506-237 singles record and a 124-97 doubles record. 

I want you to think of the last tennis match you watched – or it could be any sport, really. When the final whistle blew and the athletes were walking off the playing surface, think about how those athletes acted. That will tell you everything you need to know about that specific player.

Do You Have Any Favorite Sportsmanship Quotes? 

There’s something about those sportsmanship quotes that speak to me. They help athletes understand that there’s more to sport than winning and losing. Even in the face of intensity, there’s no reason why anyone should show disrespect or ignorance to their opponent. 

I’m sure I’m not the only one that likes to learn from sportsmanship quotes, especially when they come from a true and proven sportsman with a history of respect in the sports community. The world needs more of it and it’s these sportsmanship quotes that are going to supply that. 

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Now that I’ve shared my favorite sportsmanship quotes with you, it’s time for you to share your favorite sportsmanship quotes with me! Are they some of the ones I listed above? Did I miss some good ones? Do you have an original one you’d like to share with us? Let us know!

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