Sportsmanship and Swimming

Courtesy of Ashleigh Shanley, SwimSwam Intern. Follow: @ashleigh.shanley


1. Character, practice or skill of a sportsman

2. Sportsmanlike conduct as fairness, courtesy, being a cheerful loser, etc. (courtesy of

Some people argue that sportsmanship has gradually been disappearing from athletics. With the excessive celebrations of athletes in football, basketball and soccer, or the fights that take place during games, it seems that playing clean and having respectful attitudes has disappeared.

But what about swimming?

For a sport where we spend 95% of the time with our face in the water is sportsmanship even something that can exist? Of course it is! Swimming still requires us to do what is right and act as respectful athletes. But where is the line drawn between what is sportsmanlike in swimming and what’s not? If during a race we accidentally get away with a one handed open turn or a slight flinch on the block, should we go up to the officials after and tell them? Are we being unethical if we don’t say something? In this instance it is hard to say whether we are being unsportsmanlike or not by getting away with these behaviors when they do not necessarily give us a huge advantage. In swimming, with all the officials and the various reaction time systems it is difficult to “get away” with what would be considered unethical in other sports. For example, it is likely that in a basketball or football game a player could get away with a cheap foul that is not called, whereas “getting away” with unethical or unfair aspects of swimming is very unlikely. So it appears as though swimmers are very good at portraying the second part of the definition of sportsmanship by doing what is right and fair. Yet what about the first part of the definition? How well do we demonstrate sportsmanlike attitudes?

During meets, we often see the fastest swimmer in a heat wait in the water for everyone to finish, and go on to shake his or her opponents hands after the event. We see teams high fiving or giving the opposing team handshakes at the end of high school and college meets. And we see medalists graciously accept their awards on the podium. All three of these examples are a few of the many humble, sportsmanlike attitudes and behaviors that exist in our sport. But there are also times when athletes can exhibit attitudes that might not be considered very sportsmanlike.

Although we love to see the swimmers that are sincere and courteous to their opponents, we’ve all seen that swimmer that throws their cap and goggles after an event or the person that celebrates their swim in a way that is inappropriate. In a sport where you represent your high school, club, college or even country, your attitude and character is something that does not just represent yourself, but your entire team. It is critical to always remember who we are representing when we are competing, and make sure we react to our races and accomplishments in ways that express our emotion in an appropriate ways. Like I said before, it is difficult to know exactly what is crossing the line, and reactions definitely can vary depending on if your success or failure was individually or on a relay. Yet, regardless, it is always important to remember who we are representing and make sure we are acting with respect and doing what is right.

Although I can admit that the sport of swimming is indeed one of the best at demonstrating sportsmanship, we must not let those occasional instances of unethical behaviors or attitudes plague our sport. To demonstrate sportsmanship at competition, it must be practiced everyday during training. Treat your coaches and teammates with respect, demonstrate positive, honest, and dedicated attitudes, and it becomes easier to put into play sportsmanship at meets. We must continue to practice ethical behaviors so we can always be a sport that represents what it means to do what is right and fair, and be a sport that consists of athletes that are respected to the highest degree for their actions and attitudes. Sportsmanship does indeed exist in swimming, and it is our responsibility to make sure it remains present in our sport.

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Warmup Sprinter

The only thing that bothers me is the swimmers that are OVERLY nice or “sportsmanlike”. Missy Franklin is a prime example. At this point she just creeps me out.




Totally disagree. My daughter swam with her for many years, before anyone knew who she was and she has always been the person you see on tv, that you assume is being overly nice, in the water and out. Pretty sad that you get creeped out by someone you don’t even really know.


I have been an NCAA official for twenty years and can only remember a few instances of unsportsmanlike actions by athletes. NCAA coaches. . . different story.


Deal with it. She is an an excellent ambassador for usa swimming and is going to be the face of the franchise for the next ten years.

Warmup Sprinter

Yea Missy Franklin may be the face of USA swimming, but Mrs. Ledecky is the body.

About Ashleigh Shanley

Ashleigh Shanley

Ashleigh Shanley Ashleigh was born in Chicago, Il as a Christmas surprise to her two older sisters.  She then followed in her sisters' footsteps swimming for the Anderson Barracudas in Cincinnati, OH where she lived until she was ten.  When her family moved to Ann Arbor, MI she began swimming for …

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