Are sportsmanship and gamesmanship just about winning?
The word “sportsmanship” can refer to the performance or skill of someone taking part in a sport. For example, you might say “Bill is very good at rugby and rowing and he might well get into Redford College on the basis of his sportsmanship.”
More commonly, it is used to refer to those qualities that are desirable in a sportsman, or rather sportsperson, since these qualities are not restricted to the male sex. What qualities make up sportsmanship? Sportsmanship, even when this is just restricted to taking part in some kind of sport, is not just about how well you perform. It also refers to how you conduct yourself. You can play very hard and very successfully, and yet not show true sportsmanship.
To show sportsmanship is to play the sport or the game in which you are taking part fairly, and playing the game strictly according to the rules. If you are a football player who scores a goal by deliberately knocking to the ground a member of the opposing team when the referee is not looking, then you are certainly not demonstrating sportsmanship, even though you may be the hero of your team. You have won by committing a foul.
Players who demonstrate sportsmanship also act graciously when they lose, applauding their opponents and giving them due credit for giving a better performance on the day. They do not suggest that they would have won if the referee had not made some wrong decisions. Basically, they are good losers. They take part in a sport because they enjoy it, not because they feel that they absolutely have to win it.
Sportsmanship is not restricted to a sports field. It can be applied to more general areas of life. It is used to refer to the practice of behaving generally in an honest, fair way, treating your rivals or opponents with respect and not losing your temper or bearing anyone a grudge. For example, if a colleague gets a promotion that you thought should have come to you, you demonstrate sportsmanship by graciously congratulating him and taking him out for a celebratory drink. You do not go around saying that he is not good enough for the job.
Gamesmanship is something quite different from sportsmanship. It does not refer to fair play or to observing the rules. It does refer to skill at playing a game, but it is a particular kind of skill.
Gamesmanship, in fact, refers to exceptionally clever and cunning play. People using gamesmanship do not use methods that are technically against the rules of the game, but they try to defeat their opponents by psychological means. They try to put their opponents off their game so that they play badly and lose.
Someone practicing gamesmanship might try to find ways of disturbing the concentration of his opponent. For example, when it is his turn to play, he might take a very long time to do so. He might whistle or mutter constantly or he might say something disrespectful under his breath. If he is playing cards, he might act as though he has a very good hand in order to make his opponent lose confidence.
Gamesmanship is used in all kinds of games from card games to snakes and ladders to scrabble. However, it is not restricted to the actual playing of games. Some people practise gamesmanship in real life. They use clever and cunning tactics and strategies in business, politics or relationships to ensure that they win by psyching out their rivals or opponents.
Sportsmanship is certainly not just about winning a contest. Gamesmanship is, but the contest is not necessarily restricted to playing a game.