I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what it means to ‘be a good sport’. Whilst the phrase is more popular on a football field than in a dance studio, the sentiment should still apply to any young dancer.

A common phrase we often hear; It’s not about winning or losing, it’s about how you play the game…

But what does that even mean?

When my students perform at competitions I honestly don’t care what place they get. I care about their lead up and preparation for the performance, the on-stage effort, how they conduct themselves in public towards the competition convenors and then how they handle the win or loss.

Essentially I care about a series of actions that take place during ‘the game’.

Playing ‘the game’ is simply a small series of actions that essentially shape and mould who you are as a person. Are you fun to play with? Do people want to be on your team? Do you win or lose with integrity and grace?

At the end of the day, we want to be fun to play with. It’s in our best interest.

A couple of years ago, a parent decided to take her two daughters on a three week vacation four weeks before the end of year concert. This meant that the girls only had one week (one rehearsal) before they performed with their peers on stage.

Was this being a good team player? No.

Did the other students resent their peers for not putting in the required effort? Yes.

More recently, I was backstage at an eisteddfod with one of my students waiting for the results of a section. All the competitors held their breath, anxiously waiting for the verdict. However, one competitor strutted around with an air of arrogance sure she was going to place…

The results were announced and this particular child didn’t receive a placing. Her face turned to thunder as she stomped her foot on the ground and started crying. I looked at her Mum, waiting for an appropriate response such as, ‘I know you’re disappointed, but that’s no way to act…’ Instead she told her daughter she’d been robbed and the competition must be rigged.

Did all the other competitors, teachers and parents look at this Mum and daughter with disgust? They sure did.

Will other children want to be around that child in the future? Hell no.

And the last little story I’m going to share is about a parent who didn’t want to pay for the compulsory uniform at our studio. She said the standard was ridiculous, unnecessary and that when her children take ballet seriously she’ll purchase the uniform.

Will her children ever take ballet seriously if they don’t follow the uniform etiquette instilled by many studios all around the world? Probably not.

Did I feel like teaching her children after this display of complete disrespect for our studio rules? Not really.

Life isn’t one big game, it’s a series of games. Life isn’t about winning that big prize, championship trophy or accolade. It’s about winning a series of smaller wins. Did I do my best in class today? Was I respectful of the other competitors when I won? Did I follow the rules or did I play dirty?

The goal? To develop character that enables yourself to win the most amount of games over the largest amount of time. It’s not about the big prize or championship trophy. Arrogant ‘star player’ behaviour may win you a trophy in that moment, but it doesn’t make you win at life.

At the end of the day, you have to be able to play well with others and conduct yourself appropriately when you’re elated or disappointed. Now I’m not a parent (yet), but if my child wins I’m going to tell them to congratulate the other competitors and be excited without going overboard out of respect for the other competitors. If they lose, I’m going to ask them to lose gracefully, think about what they could improve in their next performance and congratulate the winner.

I’ve been criticised before for not being ecstatic when students have won a competition. To be honest, I like to remain cool, calm and collected in respect for the other competitors who may be feeling disappointed. Celebration and analysis of the win can wait.

Putting ‘winning’ above all else is also dangerous. It can send the wrong message.

I’ve had students win who didn’t deserve it. They performed better in the studio and I told them that I was disappointed. The next time they performed it was a larger competition and they didn’t win but their performance was far superior than their last effort. In my opinion, the preparation and performance quality is far more important than the trophy and every performance should be their best effort.

So what exactly does it mean to ‘be a good sport’?

In my opinion, it’s the realisation that life is a series of actions that dictate how well you do at life and that you need to learn to play well with others. Don’t put ‘winning’ above all else. Because the shiny trophy ends up collecting dust and your reputation lives on.

If you’re fun to play with people will line up to play with you, parents will line up to have their children around you, teachers will line up to teach you, colleagues will want to work with you, employees will want to feed your job satisfaction. The list goes on.

Being ‘fun’ to play with leads to a happier, more socialised experience in this world where you’re able to participate in many exciting games throughout your life.

And then? You win at life.

Would love to hear your thoughts.

Grit & Grace,

Georgia x