Water poloHumble in Victory, Gracious in Defeat

October 12, 2020

Harry Sheehy once said,


“It is your response to winning and losing that makes you a winner or a loser.”


This important idea leads us to a topic that’s absolutely integral to Patriot Aquatics – Sportsmanship. What comes to mind when you think of great sportsmanship?

Maybe your mind goes to a marathon race when competitors who have already crossed the finish line decide to head back about half a mile and begin jogging back to the finish line with another competitor who is struggling.

Maybe it’s basketball or soccer players swapping game jerseys after regulation time has expired.

Perhaps you think of MMA when the victor shakes hands with the opposing corner after he helps his opponent back to his feet.

Despite the many forms it can take, every person in the world is able to recognize good sportsmanship as they watch it unfold in front of them. In fact, people can recognize it without an actual introduction to the concept. Why is that? And why is it so heartwarming to everyone who sees it?

Well anybody who watches good sportsmanship play out between competitors will instinctively recognize that it’s an adherence to a set of rules that go beyond the rules of the match. These are rules like honor and unconditional respect for fellow competitors. It’s a display of high character. It’s a recognition of value for people around you. Good sportsmen and women understand that there are more important things in life than the game. 

That is why good displays of sportsmanship is so easy to recognize, and heart-warming for audience-members to watch. It’s because we commend attributes of honor and respect as human beings. And we admire an athlete’s adherence to those rules more than we admire the rules of the competition itself. We place those rules on a higher level.

We have witnessed many examples of great sportsmanship over the years. We’d like to share a very special one, real quick. It happened on 4/14/19. After winning third place overall at the KAP7 Tournament, our coaching staff strongly felt that there were a few bad calls from the game referees that were unfair to the OC Water Polo Club. Those bad calls ended up deciding the game, and the OCWPC lost. Our 10U athletes wanted to let the other team know that they also didn’t agree with the game’s outcome. So, they decided to give their third-place medals to the opposing team – the team that should have won. It meant the world to the OCWPC Kids, and to our kids as well. And we could not be more proud of the selflessness our little athletes showed at that moment.


It’s important to remember that sportsmanship isn’t just a responsibility to the winners of the competition. It also belongs to the losers. Competitors will find themselves on both sides during their athletic career. When you’re the victor, it’s important to celebrate the moment. But it’s even more important to show class, shake your opponent’s hand, and let them know that you honor their hard work and respect their competitiveness. Do not gloat or show off, no matter how fierce the competition was. And you do the same thing when you’re on the side of defeat. Sportsmanship is a two-way street and always has been.

What comes to mind when you think of poor sportsmanship?

Let’s pull a brief example from American Sports culture. A classic showcase of poor sportsmanship that is as timeless as it is iconic; the 1990-91 “Bad Boys” Detroit Pistons. After losing to the Chicago Bulls in the Eastern Conference NBA finals, the Pistons began walking off the court before regulation time was over in the fourth quarter. They realized they were about to lose the game and the series. They realized that they were no longer the best basketball team in the Eastern Conference. Their era had come to an end, and they were unhappy with the outcome. So they just left. Most of them didn’t shake hands with the Bulls, and they didn’t congratulate them on their victory. 

But what made the story so unforgettable was the fact that the Chicago Bulls were on the losing side of the same series the previous year, and the year before that. Each time the Bulls lost, they showed class and shook the Pistons’ hand after their defeat. The Pistons were incapable of returning the same gesture of respect when the roles were reversed, and the whole world saw it. Their collective failure to rise above their anger is why the “Bad Boys” Pistons remain one of the most infamous teams in sports history.


What can we learn from this?

Well, one lesson is: It’s a lot easier to shake your opponent’s hand and accept their congratulations when you’re on the winning side. It’s a lot more difficult when the roles are reversed. And that’s where the test of character comes in.

Don’t be the Pistons in your own story. Be the Bulls.

Remember to never compromise your integrity, no matter what the scoreboard shows at the end of a competition. There’s a saying that goes as follows:

“Humble in victory, gracious in defeat.”


Showcase a high character no matter the result, because others are watching and will recognize it. Remember good sportsmanship as an important lesson that will go further than water polo. It’s a lesson for life.

Image courtesy of Pixabay



Patriot Aquatics is committed to creating a highly competitive athletic environment in an atmosphere instilled with high ethical values.


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