Editor’s note: As an etiquette guide, this article is based on opinion. It’s goal is to create a standard.
There aren’t many more manly pursuits than sports. They’re great exercise, help develop friendships, and provide a constructive outlet for aggressive impulses, but only if you approach it with a healthy mindset. Obviously, a single article could never cover the complete etiquette of all sports, but after reading this one you should know the etiquette that spans all of them.
Learn the Rules
The only difference between sports and running around like an idiot is the rules, and nobody wants to play with someone who doesn’t care about them. The rules exist to encourage a fair and safe competition. If you don’t know the rules there’s no shame in asking right before you play, at least for a casual game. In fact, it’s quite common to discuss the rules before playing, after all, there can be different rules even at a professional level.
Respect the Officials
Umpires, referees, judges, whatever they’re called they’re always there for the same reason, to impartially enforce the rules. They may make mistakes, or miss something but they rarely have any interest in who wins or loses. Only question they’re decisions when you have right to have it reviewed. Of course, it never hurts to show your appreciation either.
Lose Gracefully, Win Graciously
Don’t try to make your opponent feel bad for losing and don’t get mad at the winner. When you win, thank your opponent for the game and maybe complement them on something they did well. When you lose, acknowledge that your opponent played better, and don’t try to blame it on anything that would’ve made the game unfair. There’s nothing wrong with joking about luck being the deciding factor, as long as everyone understands it that way.
Be a Team Player
Obviously, this one only applies to team sports but it can be the most important in those cases. If the teams don’t play as cohesive units it ruins it for everyone, players and spectators alike. Participate in the action but don’t try to win the game on your own, you’ll probably fail anyway.
Every sport has its social traditions, like curling’s eleventh end or golf’s nineteenth hole. To many, the point of sports is to socialize. If you don’t participate in that you likely won’t be the most popular guy on the team. Don’t take it too far though. You always want to keep your wits about you, and never want to become a drunken idiot.
Keep Your Dignity
You never want to be that idiot that takes it too far. You don’t have to completely suppress your emotions or act like you don’t care about what’s going on, just make sure your cheering and conduct fit with the atmosphere and energy that’s appropriate to the sport. It’s great to cheer at the top of your lungs at a hockey game, but keep it to applause at a tennis match.
Don’t Take It Too Seriously
Sports are first and foremost, recreation. If you take it too seriously, you’ll end up spoiling it for everyone. After all, if you’re not playing professionally the best you can get out of playing well is a trophy to put on your shelf and the worst you can get from playing poorly is momentary humiliation. Keep it light and keep it fun.
This may only be a summary of sports etiquette but now you can join in without looking the fool. In the future I’ll write more articles about the etiquette of specific sports.