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June 11, 2010

Berger Bytes: The Meaning of a Handshake

by Stephen Berger | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online | Berger Archive

Long Island Lizards star and US Lacrosse Men's Division Associate Stephen Berger is leading USL's latest safety and sportsmanship campaign.

The handshake in an athletic event, there are all kinds -- those before a game, those during, and of course, the one post game.

But my main question is, what are the meanings? The fist bump, pound, man hug or even the old-school butt slap -- what are the meanings of these, and do they promote good acts of sportsmanship?

I know in sports these days -- especially lacrosse -- many athletes know each other already from previous teams or clubs they played on together or against one another. Or you know of the individual because, let's face it, our sport has not reached the celebrity standards yet.

Do these handshakes mean "good luck," as a sign of being a good sport, or just, “Hey, how are you,” as a sign of being nice? Not that not saying “how are you” is not being a good sport, but why must you know a person to say hello, or even good luck? Throwing the handshake in there solidifies that respect for your opponent, but do we really mean, "Good luck?"
I know as a two-year captain of Washington College, I was held under a microscope regarding sportsmanship. Not because I talked trash and was somewhat of an outspoken player on the field, but mainly because I was a leader of my team, and my teammates looked up to me. I knew my actions on and off the field resembled not only myself but also my teammates, coaches, program and the even the college itself.

This really increased my respect for not only my opponents and the officials, but also for the game itself. I started to do little things that portrayed good sportsmanship, like help the underclassmen with their team duties, help clean the locker room (which is unheard of as an upperclassman captain), shake the officials' and opposing coaches' hands before and after the game, making sure my teammates weren’t getting unsportsmanlike penalties, attending other WC athletic events to support other teams, or just taking that extra step to make sure the team saw sportsmanship as not a chore or duty, but a part of our program and a part of our character as lacrosse players.
That said, it is easy to shake officials' hands and shake your opponents' hands, but when you shake on it, do you mean it? Do you really mean "Good game?" Do you really shake his hand or do you just give him the dead fish and move on?

When I coach or even when I am still playing, I make it a point after the game when I go through the line to shake hands to take off my helmet and gloves, respectfully shake my opponent's hand and say, "Good game!" Of course, it's much harder to say when you are on the losing side. It's easier when you just got a “W." But it takes a special player to truly be a good sport and do the small things that count.

It really takes that one player to take it to the next level and really show his teammates, his coach, the officials and opposing team that he will “Compete with Class and Honor the Game" -- the signature of US Lacrosse's latest sportsmanship campaign. Have you taken the pledge?

It just takes that one guy, that one act of class to show a team what "honoring the game" truly means.

“One man practicing sportsmanship is better than a hundred teaching it!” famed Notre Dame football coach Knute Rockne once said.
Would you agree?
Got any good sportsmanship or leadership quotes you'd like to add?

Comment below, visit the campaign Web site or e-mail them to

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