Sun Belt Conference releases findings for Real Sportsmanship Platform

New Orleans (SBC) - After more than a year of design, development and analysis, the Sun Belt Conference has released the findings of a pilot program it developed as part of the league's "Real Sportsmanship" initiative.

"After one year, the data suggests that the survey can be an effective tool for teaching sportsmanship and that it provides coaches and student-athletes the ability to reflect on their own values, standards and beliefs that define sportsmanship," said Sun Belt Associate Commissioner Dr. Kathy Keene.

The Sun Belt Conference Real Sportsmanship Program platform is an education initiative launched by the Sun Belt Conference in 2009 and implemented during the 2009-10 academic calendar year.

The purpose of program has been to provide insight on how the Real Sportsmanship platform affected on- and off-the-field sportsmanship perceptions and behaviors of SBC coaches and student-athletes as related to their coaching and playing experiences.

The study utilized the Sportsmanship Assessment Scale for Coaches and the Sportsmanship Assessment Scale for Student-Athletes to collect data for 478 coaches and 3,476 student-athletes in the SBC.

The program platform allowed those coaches and student-athletes to place themselves in realistic situations to test their response mechanisms after completing the education modules.  It was developed in conjunction with Birmingham, Ala.-based Learning Through Sports, Inc. and the Middle Tennessee State University Center for Sport Policy and Research.

During the study, data from coaches and student-athletes were collected and analyzed, and findings indicated that the initiative significantly impacted several perceptional and behavioral aspects of coaches and student-athletes regarding sportsmanship as related to their coaching and playing experiences.

"The study signifies the importance of the role of the coach and how they must be able to clearly define the values, standards, and beliefs for their teams in order for those student-athletes to change their perceptions and behaviors in terms of sportsmanship," said Keene.

As the role of the college coach continues to become more complex with increased pressure to win, larger contracts, a need for more resources, better-trained athletes, and an insatiable thirst by fans for greater involvement, coaches continue to be vigorously challenged to define their roles in developing student-athletes.

Closely related to the role of the coach, another important finding of the study was that sportsmanship could be considered to be a concept that is internalized by student-athletes, which means that individuals in this group are developing their own unique concepts and levels of awareness of sportsmanship and related issues prior to coming on campus.

A third point of interest revealed by the study is that as student-athlete skill and ability levels increase, the ability to understand and implement sportsmanship principles effectively decreases.

Drawn from the disparity in the relatively high levels of sportsmanship awareness displayed by freshmen student-athletes and the relatively low levels of sportsmanship awareness displayed by fifth-/sixth-year student-athletes, this phenomenon as a major threat to positive behaviors that coaches and student-athletes must both understand and seek to combat.

The Sun Belt Conference will continue to use the platform for the upcoming school year.

"The real sportsmanship survey creates a formal process to educate coaches and student-athletes on concepts related to sportsmanship. We believe that by having the coaches and student-athletes go through the process we are creating a level of awareness to sportsmanship that may not have been there previously," said Keene.

"Young adults can certainly benefit from the training this initiative contains because, in many cases, they either haven't been directly confronted with these scenarios yet or haven't thought them through from multiple perspectives," said Sun Belt Commissioner Wright Waters.  "The program is also beneficial for our coaches as well since they are leaders who must be prepared for these types of scenarios."