One of the worst things an athlete can do in sports is cheat. By gaining an unfair advantage over one’s opponent, not only is the opponent rooked out of a fair result, but the cheating winner achieves a victory that is devalued, not only in the eyes of the opposition but in the eyes of the cheater themselves. This is especially true in youth sports, where the focus is supposed to be on learning the game and gaining experience rather than winning at all costs. Children often learn much from their youth sports coaches, so being taught to cheat is not only wrong for the reasons previously listed, but a bad lesson to be gleaning at a young, impressionable age.
Another form of manipulating the game, which is not necessarily cheating, is called “gamesmanship.” This can come in a number of forms: fouling a player who is going to score an open layup, holding a wide receiver who has gotten open, standing in front of opponents to block their free kicks and subbing out late in soccer games to run out the clock are just a few of the many tactics that players use.
The difference between gamesmanship and cheating is that gamesmanship is not technically against the rules, but instead strays close to the line of fair and unfair.
Gamesmanship can present a quandary for the coach of a youth sports team. Since winning is typically at the forefront of a coach’s mind, they may decide to teach gamesmanship to children at a young age, which some do not agree with. There are those who would prefer that youth sports remains “pure” and “clean,” meaning that games are decided by the skill of the young athletes, not by bending but not breaking the rules.
Those who dislike gamesmanship suggest that younger players compete as best they can without employing it, which ensures that any victories or defeats are decided as fairly as possible. An argument can be made that any lessons learned in defeat can and will be used in future games, making them worthwhile experiences and a justifiable reason not to employ gamesmanship.
On the other hand, some who argue that gamesmanship is within the bounds of fair play realize that youth sports may not be the best place for such tactics, and suggest teaching it to children as they get older. This method would seem to satisfy both those who are for and those against gamesmanship, as it isn’t employed at a young age, but rather when the players are mature enough to make a distinction between cheating and staying within the bounds of the rules.