Taking the lead in sportsmanship

Ways parents can teach what it means to be a good sport

We’ve all seen it – the parent who stands on the sidelines criticizing the decisions made by coaches and officials; the one who yells at his own child when she makes a mistake; the fan that hurls rude remarks to the opposing team; and the parent who always places blame. Some of us have even had the misfortune of witnessing brawls. This is antithetical to teaching kids good sportsmanship.

There’s no question, winning is rewarding and boosts self-esteem. However, well-meaning parents sometimes are so caught up in the competitiveness that they lose sight of the real value of sports. Winning is not just being the victor of a game. It’s becoming the best all-around person one can be. Children who carry this with them will be the ones to prevail.

What’s in losing? Plenty. It teaches lessons in perseverance, humility, respect, and acceptance of defeat.

What does losing mean? It means to come out second best. Defeat isn’t failure. A child or parent who walks away satisfied whether victorious or not is the true winner.

What else do sports offer? Benefits include opportunities to build friendships, lessons on the importance of rules, fairness and honesty, anger management and leadership skills and how to work as a team. In short, sports teach important principles of life that will be of immense value in the years to come.
Tips for supporting your child and teaching sportsmanship

• Make the most of your child’s involvement by showing your support and what it means to be a good sport.

• Avoid pointing out your child’s mistakes or criticizing. This only serves to make kids feel worse. Your child is most likely already aware of the mistake.

• Practice with your child, but don’t push. Offer pointers and demonstrate proper techniques, but allow mistakes to go without frequent correction.

• Praise your child’s efforts.

• Allow coaches and officials to do their jobs. If you feel an error was made, remember it’s a tough job and that we all make mistakes. Realize it will probably come out in the wash.

• Don’t put down the other team’s players, and be courteous and respectful of the other team’s fans.

• When talking with your child about a game, point out specific displays of sportsmanship that took place to show the difference between being a good sport and poor one.

• If your child isn’t enjoying the sport, don’t force your child to stay in it. For many children, team sports aren’t the answer. Help find another activity or a solo sport that is more suited to your child.

• Set up a sportsmanship recognition program for your child’s team offering certificates of outstanding sportsmanship to players who set examples of being a good sport. If a child is struggling with sportsmanship, look for opportunities to help your child brush up on skills, and reward your child accordingly as reinforcement.

• Acknowledge and show interest in team members whose abilities don’t stand out.

• Don’t place blame when the team loses.

To learn more on this topic, read It’s How You Play the Game: Reclaiming Sportsmanship and Honor by Bobby Newman.
Kimberly Blaker is a professional family life writer.

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