Sportspersonship has long been a topic of interest in physical education (PE) and sport environments and  is  one  of  the  most  frequently  mentioned  virtues  promoted  by  sports.  Sportspersonship  represents  a  wide-ranging  concept  that  has  important consequences  for  the  physical  and  psychological welfare  of  all  sport  participants.  From  a  psychological  perspective,  the  concept  of  sportspersonship  is  closely  related  to  that  of  moral  behavior and  development.  However,  theory  in  this  area has  not  systematically  addressed  the  role  of  both person  and  contextual  variables  in  explaining moral  behavior  and  moral  development  in  sport. Therefore,  Robert  J.  Vallerand  and  colleagues have proposed a social–psychological approach to sportspersonship.

First,  this  approach  posits  that  both  individual  differences  and  social  forces  influence sportspersonship  behavior.  Second,  the  behavior of others plays an important role in helping individuals define the content of sportspersonship. It is through their interaction with their peers, parents, coaches, and other sport participants that children come to learn what sportspersonship is and what it is not. In line with these assumptions, Vallerand and colleagues proposed and empirically validated a multidimensional definition of sportspersonship that incorporates five facets:

  1. A full commitment toward sport participation by working hard and showing up during practices and games, acknowledging one’s mistakes, and trying to improve
  2. Respect for social conventions to be found in sports, such as shaking hands after the game or recognizing the good performance of the opponent
  3. Respect and concern for the rules and officials
  4. Respect and concern for the opponent (i.e., fair play), such as refusing to take advantage of an injured opponent or agreeing to wait for a late opponent instead of winning by default
  5. Absence of a negative approach toward sportspersonship, which can manifest itself in the adoption of a win-at-all-costs mentality or by losing one’s temper after making a mistake.

In sum, sportspersonship can be defined as the concern and respect of one’s full commitment for the sport,  the  rules  and  officials,  social  conventions, and the opponent as well as the relative absence of a negative approach toward participation.

The   social   psychological   approach   further proposes   that   it   is   important   to   distinguish between  three  key  elements:  sportspersonship behavior,  sportspersonship  orientations,  and  the development  of  sportspersonship  orientations. Sportspersonship   behavior   refers   to   the   display  of  behavior  at  one  given  point  in  time. Sportspersonship  orientations  pertain  to  individual  differences  in  the  propensity  to  act  in  a sportspersonlike fashion. Finally, the development of  sportspersonship  orientations  refers  to  the process  through  which  sportspersonship  orientations develop. In line with the social psychological approach,  sportspersonship  orientations  refer  to individual differences in the propensity to behave in  line  with  each  of  the  sportspersonship  dimensions  outlined  previously.  For  instance,  athletes with  a  high  orientation  toward  concern  for  the rules  and  officials  would  be  less  likely  to  cheat than  athletes  who  score  low  on  this  orientation. Consequently, Vallerand and colleagues developed a  scale  in  order  to  capture  individual  differences

in   sportspersonship   orientations.   This   scale, labeled  the  Multidimensional  Sportspersonship Orientation   Scale   (MSOS),   is   based   on   the sportspersonship  definition  outlined  previously and  serves  to  measure  athletes’  orientation  on the  five  sportspersonship  dimensions  described previously. Each dimension is measured using five items.  Support  for  this  multidimensional  conceptualization of sportspersonship has been provided by extensive validation work. Finally, the development of sportspersonship orientations refers to the process  through  which  sportspersonship  orientations develop.

Determinants of Sportspersonship

As  stated  earlier,  both  personal  factors  and  the social  environment  influence  the  determinants of  sportspersonship  orientations.  As  it  pertains to  personal  factors,  research  has  shown  gender  differences  in  sportspersonship  orientations. Specifically,  girls  have  been  found  to  exhibit higher  levels  of  moral  reasoning  and  moral  functioning, as well as less aggressive behaviors, than boys  in  sport.  Additionally,  motivation  toward one’s sport has also been shown to influence one’s sportspersonship  orientation.  More  precisely,  it has been shown that intrinsic motivation was positively,  while  extrinsic  motivation  was  negatively, related  to  sportspersonship.  Moreover,  the  motivational  climate  of  the  team  has  been  related  to sportspersonship  orientations.  Specifically,  athletes who play in a strong task(or mastery) oriented  climate  where  one  focuses  on  learning  and self-referenced achievement and progress are more likely to develop and display higher sportspersonship.  Conversely,  athletes  perceiving  a  high  ego(or performance) oriented climate where the focus is  on  normative  achievement  and  criteria  of  success and failure are more likely to display low levels of sportspersonship. The same line of reasoning applies to individual achievement goal orientation. More precisely, task-oriented goals in athletes are typically  associated  to  high  sportspersonship  levels, whereas ego-oriented goals are related to low sportspersonship levels.

Consequences of Sportspersonship

Sportspersonship  orientations  have  been  shown to be associated to various consequences by influencing  the  way  individuals  approach  their  sport. In  fact,  individuals  who  display  higher  levels  of sportspersonship  are  less  likely  to  display  unethical  behaviors,  such  as  cheating  or  using  performance-enhancing   substances.   Furthermore, stronger  sportspersonship  orientations  have  been shown to lead to less reactive aggression in sport. In  other  words,  sportspersonship  orientations seem  to  reduce  athletes’  tendency  to  use  malicious  or  injurious  behaviors  within  a  competitive setting.  Conversely,  individuals  with  high-level sportspersonship  orientations  are  more  likely  to use  instrumental  aggression,  an  unemotional  and task-oriented way of interfering with an opponent. Simply  put,  they  will  respect  the  rules  and  social conventions of their sport when determining what is acceptable while competing.

In  sum,  a  social–psychological  and  multidimensional  approach  to  sportspersonship  provides  a  broader,  yet  integrative,  perspective  of the  personal  and  contextual  factors  influencing the  development  and  display  of  sportspersonship orientations.  Furthermore,  it  leads  to  a  better understanding of important consequences of these orientations for moral as well as immoral behavior in sports.


  1. Chantal, Y., Robin, P., Vernat, J.-P., & BernacheAssollant, I. (2005). Motivation, sportspersonship, and athletic aggression: a mediational analysis. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 6, 233–249. doi: 10.1016/j.psychsport.2003.10.010
  2. Donahue, E., Miquelon, P., Valois, P., Goulet, C., Buist, A., & Vallerand, R. J. (2006). A motivational model of performance-enhancing substance use in elite athletes. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 28, 502–511.
  3. Vallerand, R. J., Brière, N. M., Blanchard, C., & Provencher, P. (1997). Development and validation of the Multidimensional Sportspersonship Orientation Scale (MSOS). Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 19, 197–206.
  4. Vallerand, R. J., Deshaies, P., Cuerrier, J.-P., Brière, N. M., & Pelletier, L. G. (1996). Toward a multidimensional definition of sportsmanship. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 8, 89–101. doi: 10.1080/ 10413209608406310

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