How Much Rivalry is Good Rivalry?

Rocky vs. Creed, Alabama vs. Auburn, and the New York Yankees vs. the Boston Red-Sox all have one thing in common: an award-winning rivalry.

Rivalries are seen in everyday life whether we realize it or not. They extend from running races on the playground as a child hoping to beat the fastest classmate to two teams from the same town going head-to-head once a year in a sport. Rivalries are an important part of sports as they make each game against each rival more exciting, make each victory sweeter, and turn each loss into motivation to come back and win the next year. After all, winning a game against a rival gives not only the team but fans of the team free bragging rights for a year until the next game.

What can we do to ensure that rivalries don’t turn bad?

But even though rivalry is—and will forever be—a large portion of sports, how much rivalry is good rivalry?

When I was in high school, our rival school was just under 12 miles away. In a town as small as mine—just like many of yours growing up too I’m sure—the week leading up to the big game had so much enthusiasm mixed with nerves that we hardly had class that week. Instead, we did simple work or got the chance to “catch-up” which was codeword for, “lets all talk about Friday night.” Thursday, we would all rally together before the big game on Friday and eat dinner, then go ride around town together and see people from our rival school doing the same exact thing.

After the game was over on Friday and the victory rally was done on Monday—if you won—we went back to normal and backed down off the victory high until the next year.

In our small town, rivalry was simple. We would hope that we won and if we lost, then too bad. But some rivalries are so strong that it causes mass chaos after the game is over.

Instances of this include a bus that was shot at with a paintball gun by the opposing team, crude language being screamed at players going back to the locker room, and several cases of vandalism.

Other instances of rivalry gone bad include the infamous poisoning of the trees at Toomer’s Corner in Auburn, Ala. by an upset Alabama fan after a loss and the Tonya Harding / Nancy Kerrigan incident in January 1994.

So what can we do as organizers to ensure no post-game rivalries?

Experts on the subject say to host a pre-game sportsmanship rally, have captains of each team come together and meet up for lunch or dinner before the game, or simply enforce a good sportsmanship rule.

Rivalry is “healthy,” but we have to do our parts to make sure that the rivalry stays clean and all in great fun.