Wednesday, 18 April 2012

The Etiquette of Outdoor Games: helpful advice for Olympic athletes

Today marks 100 and 133 days respectively until the start of the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. MoDA joins with the rest of the country wishing Team GB well in the countdown to the games. We took to the collection store this afternoon to see if we could find any helpful advice to accompany our best wishes to the Olympians.  

Most of you are aware MoDA’s collection contains various publications, journals and magazines proffering advice on how to comport oneself in the domestic sphere. These range from Victorian household management guides to 1950s DIY magazines and also include etiquette books from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century.

"What Shall I Say?": A Guide to Letter Writing for Ladies, published by Ward, Lock & Co., ca.1890 [Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture, BADDA2442]

Whilst we found a range of books dedicated to domestic activities such as letter writing, we were hard pressed to find anything on the topic of behaviour at sporting events. That is, until we came across these 1925 partner books ‘Etiquette for Ladies’ and ‘Etiquette for Gentlemen’ which contain whole chapters on ‘The Etiquette of Outdoor Games’.

'Etiquette for Ladies' and 'Etiquette for Gentlemen', published by Ward, Lock & Co., 1925 [Museum of Domestic Design and Architecture, BADDA2425 and BADDA2424]

'Etiquette for Ladies’ advises sportswomen to remain good natured in triumph or defeat and to also guard their reputation by ensuring their behaviour is above reproach.

The etiquette of games is governed by the simplicity and consideration for others which denotes a gentlewoman in every sphere. Nowadays girls on the playing-field and tennis-court learn to “play the game”, and have realised something of that spirit of sportsmanship which rejoices in the victory of the winner, no matter which side he or she represents. 
In taking part in any sport two or three outstanding rules should be kept in mind, namely:
Don’t lose your temper on any provocation whatsoever. Nothing is more ill-bred or “gives one away” more readily than openly to rejoice over a personal triumph or to display annoyance when one’s partner makes a bad move.
Don’t take any unfair advantage of partner or opponent, as you value your reputation let your scoring be perfectly truthful. 
Don’t attract attention to yourself by loud talking and vulgar gestures or by criticism of the players or their game.

‘Etiquette for Gentlemen’ takes a different approach by recalling the relationship between gentlemanliness and sporting prowess.

To feel comfortable in the society of his fellows, a man must be well versed in the things in which he and they are concerned. A well-bred man should be able to handle gun, golf clubs, tennis racket, oars and the bat, as well as the tools of minor sports. Such a man will be above most small short-comings. Nor should boxing be neglected. We do not live as the Elizabethans, whose young men saw a quarrel in everything they could, in order to prove their skill as duellists, but the art of self-defence is a very necessary accomplishment.

Nothing keeps a man healthier or saner than a love of sport – good clean sports such as Britain is favourably known for all the world over.

The chapter goes on to remind men of their manners towards ladies and opponents even in competitive venues such as tennis courts:

Be as courtly to the women playing with you. It may make all the difference in the world to their enjoyment and ensure you a welcome on these occasions. Do not take advantage either of an opponent’s weakness or your partner’s energy: share the work of the game as you hope to share the honours. At the end of the set do not omit to thank both your partner and your opponents for the pleasure of the game.

Whether playing or looking on, do not criticise play audibly 
...  If you are the stronger player do not partner solely with people of your own class: contrive to gladden the hearts of weaker players by inviting them to play you occasionally. 

We can only speculate what the Olympic Games will be like if this advice from 1925 is taken on board. We wish all Olympians well for the final days of preparation before 27 July 2012.


  1. I'm very intrigued by the Guide to Letter Writing! Does it contain hints on style as well as content? What type of subject does it suggest a Lady should write about?

  2. Hi Kathryn, thanks for your message.

    The Guide to Letter Writing is very thorough in regards to stylistic advice: it begins with chapters on how to address dignitaries, royalty, heads of state etc., then goes on to talk about correct writing paper, inks, dates and addresses, punctuation, salutations and even handwriting.

    The subjects for letters and their examples are even more detailed! The sections are: Invitations and replies; Letters between relatives (including 'To son at college respecting choice of profession'); From mistresses; Application For Situation As - (Typist, Bookkeeper, Companion to a lady etc); Love Letters to Lover (including 'Asking for a Portrait' and 'To lover who has been paying attention to another young lady'); Miscellaneous (including 'From one lady to another whom she believes to be the victim of misunderstanding' and 'To friend in the Colonies') and finally To Neighbours (including 'Complaining of piano playing' and 'Complaining of children').


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