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Sportsmanship & Ethical Decision Making

Coach Masterclass

Chapter 16: Sportsmanship & Ethical Decision Making

Coaches are faced with several ethical decisions on almost a daily basis. Good and bad sportsmanship can show up on days outside of just match day — interacting with other coaches, recruiting, roster management, communication with university staff members, etc.

Sometimes coaches believe they need to act or encourage their players to act in a particular way in order to not show weakness to their opponents or to keep up with conference or national opponents. We can justify our actions in many different ways but can fall into the trap of what Simon Sinek refers to as ethical fading. Ethical fading is a culture that allows people to act in unethical ways in order to advance their own interests, often at the expense of others, while falsely believing that they have not compromised their own moral principles. When intense competition is involved it can be hard not to succumb to certain pressures and we all make mistakes from time to time.

The coaches interviewed for this chapter have found that sweet spot of holding themselves and their teams to the highest standards of sportsmanship while also winning a lot of matches in the process.

Sportsmanship with Dr. Tommy Valentini

Dr. Tommy Valentini is not only the head men’s tennis coach at Gustavus Adolphus College but is also a professor of Sports Ethics. Tommy serves on the DIII ITA Operating Committee and is a member of the ITA Board of Directors. Tommy combines his research as a professor, his experiences as a player under Steve Wilkinson, and his 12 years as a college coach to provide some viewpoints and suggestions for coaches to consider when thinking about sportsmanship and how to become more intentional about building moral character of the players they coach.

Sportsmanship with Dr. Ann Lebedeff

Imagine coaching for 38 years, winning national championships, conference championships, National Coach of the Year honors, and having Billie Jean King endow a leadership award in your name. That is exactly what Ann Lebedeff accomplished throughout her coaching career. However, Ann is known for much more than her awards and 654 wins as a coach. She is best known as a true leader who puts relationships and integrity above all else.

Sportsmanship with Bryan Shelton

Bryan Shelton is currently the head men’s coach at the University of Florida. He also reached a career-high singles ranking of No. 55 on the ATP Tour and coached the Georgia Tech women’s team to a National Championship in 2007. He has proved time and time again that you can be a dogged competitor as a player and a coach and still win at the highest levels. As Bryan explains, it is not the easier path to take, but it is definitely the more rewarding path in the long run.

August 2, 2021