Extreme Kindness

Extreme Kindness

Kindness in Sport

Athletics have always been a big part of my life and this project. I thought it would be appropriate to seek out anything related to kindness in sport and challenge you to do the same.

Here is an article I received from Bennett Lombardo of the Health and Education department in Rhode Island College. (Thanks Bennett)


Bennett J. Lombardo

Health & Physical Education Department

Rhode Island College

Providence, Rhode Island 02908

Paper Presented

April 17, 1999

Endicott College

Beverly, MA

Kindness in Sport: The Role of the Coach

Bennett J. Lombardo
Rhode Island College

As we gather here today, I join you with some ambivalence, and mixed emotions. On the one hand I am thrilled, if not ecstatic, about this new beginning. It is always refreshing to be in on the start of new movement. All of us, gathered to discuss the positive aspects of sports and how to increase the occurrence of its many powerful outcomes and how to perpetuate these idealistic, and nurturing acts through the medium that we all love, respect, and have devoted our professional efforts. How exhilarating!

Yet, on the other hand, it is easy for me to become depressed if I focus upon the realization that our beloved “sporting ventures” have come to this, that is, that we are

in the difficult position of trying to reassert humane behavior back into sport, and place it once again at the center of the experience. However, let us not dwell too long on these thoughts, as they can be rather non-productive.

We live in difficult times. Maybe Bill Reynolds, a sportswriter for the Providence Journal, said it best when he stated that: “the perfect movie for the mean-spirited times we live in today might be “Ten Things I Hate About You” (1). I think Mr. Reynolds captured the essence of the purpose of this meeting today.

Kindness, what does it mean? To be kind can be defined several ways: to be friendly, gentle, tenderhearted, generous, cordial, and affectionate. Kindness, then, could be interpreted as the act of being kind, of being courteous, generous, gentle, cordial, affectionate, and displaying good will.

In order to stay positive let us examine some significant examples of kindness, civility, and positive humane outcomes from the recent sport experience.

1) It is timely, yet ironic, that so much emotion, empathy, and love resulted from the fabulous McGwire – Sosa home run record chase during the 1998 baseball season. Fans, coaches, competitors, officials, owners, among others all joined in an unabashed outpouring of support, kindness, and yes, even love for the performers during that remarkable stretch of games this past summer. These two outstanding ballplayers insisted not only including the entire family of Roger Maris (the previous home run record holder) during their amazing, highly competitive, and public chase to overcome Maris’ record.

They also showed tremendous respect, and indeed, love for all members of that family. Sosa and McGwire modeled love and respect for all. It was a tremendously positive, and inspirational model for all, young and old, to observe.

If we factor in the recent unique, experience of the death of Joe DiMaggio, an American icon, and the tremendous outpouring of love, affection, and positive emotion which followed, we have much cause for hope. As professionals we should be alert to the “hidden messages” in this latter event, that is the passing of an American Hero, the Italian Horatio Alger if you like. Summarizing some of these hidden messages briefly:

Repeated expressions of his civility, his class, his avoidance of the spotlight (even if, as some suggest, Mr. DiMaggio worked had to cultivate this image )
His privacy, his modesty, his avoidance of self-aggrandizement
His refusal to fully enter the arena of: “Self-Promotion”
Few if any words of protest, negativity in the entire event.

I hesitate to state that there was nary a negative comment to be heard. Even in his passing on to a better place, Joe DiMaggio has provided society with an alternative way of behaving. To respond to the query of Simon and Garfunkel, who asked; “Where Have you Gone Joe Dimaggio?”, we might say: “There you are, Joe DiMaggio.”

2) Another example of civil behavior in sport emanates from the world of tennis in the mid 70s. Jimmy Connors was at the height of his superior reign as the tennis champion. Yes, the same Jimmy Connors, often described as the prototype spoiled tennis brat, often uncivil, the epitome of aggression, an athlete who might aptly be the living representation of the competitive, yet unkind athlete. Can you picture him deliberately surrendering a point during a major event? In the tennis match that I am referring too,
Jimmy Connors recognized the unfairness of an official’s call (in his favor), and deliberately drove the next return into the net, thus returning the point to his opponent. In his own way, Connors demonstrated kindness in the heat of competition.

I am told that this type of kind and civil behavior is not uncommon. Another example occurred in the 1996-Wimbledon Quarterfinals, when Alex Radulescu, of Germany conceded a let at 4-4, in the fifth set to MaliVai Washington (Washington won 6-4) for similar reasons. Professionals and leaders of sport should take heart in these events.

3) Soccer — Nov. 2, 1969. At Bernabeau Stadium, Madrid with 80,000 screaming partisan fans looking on, Pedro Zamballa, has the ball on the right wing. Just prior to receiving the ball there was a major collision between the opposing goalie and the Real Madrid back, both falling unconscious. In an unexpected and amazing show of thoughtfulness and kindness, and in spite of an over zealous crowd, Zamballa intentionally kicked the ball across the endline. His team eventually lost, 1-0.

4) More recently in soccer games, it has become standard practice that when a player falls injured, the opposing team purposely kicks the ball over the sideline. Upon resumption of play, the team of the injured player deliberately plays the ball back to the team who had so kindly surrendered the ball at the time of the injury. This very kind and civil behavior, which was developed by the athletes themselves, has become a regular occurrence at soccer games. This is very encouraging and indicates that professionals and athletes together can, indeed, change the sport experience in positive ways.

5) Just recently, Arsenal refused a victory over Sheffield because of an apparent inadvertent “UNKIND” act (a violation of an unwritten rule, originated by players). During a professional soccer game an injury occurred to a Sheffield player. A Sheffield player kicked the ball out of bounds, a normal tactic. After the injured player was replaced, Arsenal put the ball in bounds with a throw-in. Normally the ball would have been allowed to bounce directly to a Sheffield player, but this time it was intercepted by Nwankwo Kanu, a young Nigerian substituted just acquired by Arsenal. Not grasping the significance of the soft in-bounds toss, Kanu passed to Marc Overmars, a seasoned Dutch teammate, who instinctively banged the ball into the net. The Sheffield team was very upset and angry and many of the Aresenal players were openly unhappy. Immediately, after the game the Arsenal Coach, Frenchman Arsene Wenger announced that he was declining victory. The game was to be replayed the following Tuesday.

Indeed, there is hope for us in sport yet. These examples should inspire professionals to do the right thing. The possibilities demonstrated by these few examples should encourage professionals and coaches to insist on kind and civil behaviors from all at sporting events.


The question for professionals, interested in socializing our young into meaningful, caring, and kindly lifestyles is how can leaders of sport and human movement programs nurture and reinforce these compassionate and positive feelings in sport and human movement programs at all levels on a regular basis.

Why are examples of the best in human behavior so rare in sporting activities? Why is it such an “event” when athletes demonstrate care, thoughtfulness, and other humane behaviors in public? The encouragement of such actions and the issues related to the development of both athletes who will feel free to manifest such behavior and sport leaders who will support and accept these loving and kind behaviors is our reason for meeting today.

Special emphasis will be devoted to a discussion of the role of the coach in these efforts. Models will be examined as vehicles which promise to stimulate kindness, care and mindfulness in movement. Also, organizational approaches to increasing the incidence of “kindness” in both coaching behavior and in the sport experience will be addressed. Two main themes will be explored in this paper:

1) What can coaches do to facilitate kindness between and among players, coaches, opponents, officials, etc.? What specific actions can be taken by a coach to increase the occurrence of kindness in sport?

2) What can sport organizations and institutions of higher education (especially those who purport to prepare leaders of sport) do to support, reinforce, and encourage kindness in organized competitive contests? Organizational and institutional procedures and policies which can nurture and support a “kinder” sport experience (especially for novices) will be identified and discussed.

It should be noted that the suggestions presented herein are directed solely to athletics, competition, and sport leadership for school-age athletes — that is athletes from pre-school age through high school (not beyond high school). The ideas and suggestions are educationally based, and therefore probably will not apply to programs which have embraced the “professional” model of sport.


It is often difficult for coaches to behave in ways which are more educational, more humanistic, more inviting, and in short “developmentally appropriate” for their athletes. Too many coaches in world of the 21st century have not been on the receiving end of such proactive, positive, and encouraging styles/methods/approaches to sport leadership. And the truism that coaches coach as they have been coached is really all too accurate. So our first step must be to explain and model the various more
inviting, encouraging options within the range of sport and specifically coaching leadership (e.g., the humanistic, invitational, and educational models (2,3) ).

Briefly summarizing several feasible modifications which could be implemented with little effort and/or preparation:

1) Coaches can easily respect each participant in the event (fans, officials, opponents).

2) Coaches can maintain privacy when and where possible. Does everyone have to know everyone else’s business? Coaches can work to ensure that interactions with players, fans, officials, parents, can be as private as the situation allows. Once again, I would invoke the DiMaggio metaphor as a model for non-public, if not private, interactions and behavior.

3) With respect must come the desire to listen to each person, actively and sincerely, so as to truly capture their intent, ideas, and meaning.

4) Empathy, the ability to fully understand the condition of another, is critical. Coaches who have empathy for their athletes never forget what it was like to be a player.

5) To encourage, rather than discourage, is to provide a living model of kindness. To support, to nurture, to be inviting, rather than restrictive, discouraging, uninviting are kind and thoughtful behaviors which should be part of a coach’s behavioral repertoire.

Several general methods or strategies can be employed to implement the selected behaviors identified previously:

1) Modeling: This is the most powerful behavior available to coaches. Indeed, coaches really do not have a choice. Adults who lead athletes provide them with a continuous model. Modeling is perpetual and pervasive. Therefore it is important that coaches be proactive and intentional in their modeling awareness and efforts.

2) Recognition: Coaches must point out and emphasize all the kind and positive acts which occur during sporting events. They must treat everyone with kindness and respect. This can be difficult and time consuming, but it must be accomplished and regularly demonstrated for athletes if changes in the direction discussed here are to be achieved. For example, during a recent softball game I observed a coach from one team pitching batting practice to players on both teams. She allowed batters to take a few swings, regardless of which team they played on. She simply pitched to the batters on a first come, first serve basis. This was a very thoughtful and kind act. Athletes should be reminded of such unique and stellar behavior when it occurs.

3) Instruction: An obvious set of opportunities are presented if coaches constantly provide appropriate instruction. Teach at every opportunity. Coaches should identify, emphasize, and discuss the examples of kindness, caring, civility, etc. as they occur on the competitive fields. Some examples might help:

(1) “Look at that — Alice took the time to help Mary on her foul shot.”

(2) “Team, did you observe how the umpire assisted Tim when he was pitching?”

(3) “I am impressed that Coach Williams took the time to help our Bobby when he injured himself sliding. Did you all see me go over to her and thank her for her kindness and help? ”

Instruction must be directed to the total development of the participant. Too often excellent instruction is provided for athletes but it is limited to psychomotor development only. Coaches should make the effort to provide instruction in the cognitive and affective domains as well, although these areas present a different and sometimes more difficult set of problems.

Coaches must not only address and focus on motor skill development and the physical components of sport performance, but they must teach the whole athlete, including addressing the subjective, the emotional aspects, the affective domain, etc. Coaches must try to address some of the following aspects of development of the athlete:

Empathy, compassion, care
Fear, anxiety, nervousness, panic,
Honesty and ethical behavior
Sadness, despair, dejection, sorrow
Disgust, contempt, scorn, disdain
Anger, fury. exasperation, hostility, hatred, violence
Enjoyment, fun, happiness
Love, acceptance, trust, kindness, friendliness
Shame, embarrassment, humiliation

4) Avoid and prohibit “demonization/dehumanization” of the opponent. The opponents need to be viewed as facilitators of the individual’s and/or team’s attempt to enhance their own abilities, to test themselves, etc. Often this means developing alternative motivational techniques (hopefully intrinsic rather than extrinsic). Coaches must not employ the supposed or fantasized negative characteristics of the opposition to motivate their players.

5) Discourage Spectatorism and Maximize Participation and Involvement. It is so unkind to reinforce passivity, especially if we truly believe in the numerous and powerful positive outcomes of the sport experience. These positive experiences should be available to all and experienced and shared by as many youngsters as possible.


1) Selection of Leaders, coaches, volunteers, etc. Employ athletic leaders, adults, who embrace caring, responsible behavior, including civil behavior, kindness, empathy, etc.

2) Provide time to analyze, study, and encourage reflective abilities in athletic leaders and coaches. Professional preparation institutions have to take the lead in this activity.

3) Provide models of “kindness” in sport. Promote athletic leaders who manifest humane approaches and behaviors. Provide athletic programs which model kindness, and employ athletic leaders who maintain a level of civility and social-awareness, empathy and care (along with kindness) which are obvious to both
performer and observer.

4) Provide individual and professional development opportunities. Required meetings, training, coaches’ meetings, etc. should all include a focus on treating athletes and others well. This should be an on-going process and required (if necessary) especially among volunteer organizations.

5) Professional development, supervision and feedback opportunities should be planned. Such vehicles provide information to individuals and groups about effectiveness. Self-study questions such as “Is our organization effective beyond winning? Are we concerned about the total development of our performers?” should serve to guide self-assessment as it pertains to kindness and civility.

6) Develop, Maintain, Enforce, a Code of Ethics and Behavior. Athletes, coaches, fans, officials, etc. all must be expected to behave in a civil manner. These expectations should be promulgated and reviewed periodically.


At some point in the future kindness and civility in sport will no longer be a major concern. Professionals will focus their efforts on other aspects of the sport experience, such as improving the learning and growth and development that is derived from the sport experience. When will we know that we have gotten “there” ?

Indicators of Kindness in Sport

The following items will indicate to everyone that sport is kinder.

1. When sport is refocused so as to decrease “spectatorism” while concurrently increasing participation. When sport facilities are designed for increased numbers of performers and fewer observers.

2. When as a result of increased participation, the “masses” develop and maintain a strong self-concept, and “solid” self-esteem. With increased general participation, many more individuals will develop increased positive feelings about competency (efficacy) and about doing and achieving.

3. When the educational system, which so often and so loudly proclaims the values of sport, competition, and participation on athletic teams, redesigns interscholastic, intercollegiate, etc. systems so that no one individual is “cut” from a team. When sport is organized for everyone, not only the “elite performers.

4. When there is follow-through on the importance of participation in sport so that provisions are made for everyone to experience the multitude of positive outcomes derived from the encounter with sport.

5. When the individual engaged in sport is more important than anything else and is our ultimate concern.

6. When the need for official “officials” is eliminated and athletes officiate for themselves. When athletes begin to take back their games and overrule “official” calls, especially when mistakes are made in their favor.

7. When athletes, coaches, fans, officials, manifest respect for everyone involved with sport.

8. When spectators see performers as developing people and not professionals.

9. When “fraternization” is encouraged pre- and post-play.

10. When wellness concerns become a central feature of game playing and competitive sports.

11. When the game is over, it is over!! When emotions are reduced once the competition is over.

12. When athletes, et al celebrate the “PLAYING” and not solely the results of playing (Rewards; money, promotion, exposure, etc.).

At that point in time, indeed, sport will manifest its kindlier, more civil, liberating and humane characteristics. And I am convinced that participants, society, and indeed all of humankind will be better off for the experience.


1) Reynolds, William. Providence Journal. April 3, 1999.

2) Lombardo, Bennett J. (1987). The Humanistic Coach: From Theory to Practice.
Springfield, Illinois: Charles C. Thomas, Publisher.

3) Lombardo, Bennett J. , Victor H. Mancini, and Deborah A. Wuest. Editors. (1995).
The Humanistic Sport Experience: Visions and Realities.
Dubuque, Iowa: Times Mirror Higher Education Group.

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Trackback from your own site.

One Response to “Kindness in Sport”

  1. Jen Says:
    June 8th, 2006 at 10:33 am

    Erik, you are probably already aware of these sites, but if by some off chance you are not definitely check them out – I think you would like them:

    http://www.truesportpur.ca/ True Sport focuses on the notion of what they term ‘values-driven sport’ or ‘fair and ethical sport’.

    http://www.cces.ca/ The Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport

    These two sites are full of all your technical reports, research articles, etc. as well as stories and examples.

    Physical activity releases all the ‘happy chemicals’ in our bodies: endorphins and such (Biology was a long time ago). Being active is an important part of being a healthy, positive, constructive person and member of society. Too often, we get caught up in the sport instead of the activity, winning instead of having fun, and the good person we try/want to be in life is lost on the field/rink/turf/waves.

    Kindness is not something we get to turn on and off at our convenience. It is time to infuse kindness into ALL aspects of our lives.

Leave a Reply