How to teach sportsmanship: A video-game example

In the August 2013 Wired, there is a small column about the League of Legends video game. I am not a gamer, but the article said that it is a multiplayer game. According to its developer, “toxic player behavior” became a reason for people quitting (Horvath, 2013). 

In response, the game developer began showing behavioral tips on the loading screen such as “Teammates perform worse if you harass them after a mistake.” According to the article, showing the tips led to nicer play, with verbal abuse and negative attitudes dropping.

I have written previously about how coaches and sports administrators can learn from video games (here, here, here, and here), but this is another example of a video-game developer using basic psychology and neuroscience (Jeffrey Lin, a neuroscientist, leads the team).

Coaches have a major impact in a child’s enjoyment of his or her sports experience. Rather than ignore this impact in some misguided attempt to win or be competitive, coaches should use science to inform their coaching. For many, this is blasphemy, as coaches know best from when they were players. However, there is a reason why many view video games as addictive: They are. They are designed specifically to engage the brain to continue participation.

If video-game developers send messages that teammates perform worse when harassed after a mistake, why don’t coaches send the same message? So many coaches (and parents) yell and scream after mistakes?

Are children trying to miss shots? Of course not. Do they not want to make their free throws? Of course they do. What’s the problem?

The problem, generally, is that the player is not good enough yet to make the shot consistently. That’s why he or she is not a professional! The player is learning, and part of learning is making mistakes. When making mistakes lead to harassment (by a coach, player, or parent), the player often becomes reluctant to try new things, which causes a lack of improvement, and oftentimes, decreased participation.

Vide-game developers appear to have it right. As coaches, we need to embrace psychology and neuroscience to enhance participation for children in sports activities and to increase motivation to continue participating, learning, making mistakes, and playing.

By Brian McCormick, M.S.S., PES
Coach/Clinician, Brian McCormick Basketball
Author, Cross Over: The New Model of Youth Basketball Development
Director of Coaching, Playmakers Basketball Development League

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