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Teaching Good Sportsmanship

Teaching Kids Good Sportsmanship
girl showing good sportsmanship
Girl showing good sportsmanship.

Parenting Tips for Teaching Good Sportsmanship.

It’s important teaching good sportsmanship to kids and learning the value of integrity. “You don’t win silver. You lose gold.” That’s the sour message of a sneaker advertisement that aired on TV during the Atlanta Olympics.

Such omnipresent multimedia messages combined with a “winning is everything” philosophy embraced by increasing numbers of parents and coaches – makes it harder than ever for adults to teach kids that it’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game that’s important.

It’s not surprising that the rise in bad sportsmanship — and outrageous behavior in professional sports has resulted in a parallel increase of poor sportsmanship (e.g., trash-talking, violence) in youth sports. Regardless of whether we caution our kids to NOT idolize professional athletes who behave badly, kids will continue to be influenced by the behavior of the pros.

How can you instill in your child the importance of good sportsmanship and offset the “win at all costs” philosophy? Both parents and coaches can start by focusing on these issues to teach good sportsmanship and life skills:

Some examples to Teaching Good Sportsmanship

  • Be Your Child’s Role Model. Offer praise and encouraging words for all athletes, including your child’s opponents. Never openly berate, tease, or demean any child athlete, coach, or referee while attending a sporting event. When attending athletic events or watching them on TV with your child, refrain from criticizing or condemning athletes’ performances. During the Olympics, what messages are you sending your child if you honor only athletes from the United States, while rooting against athletes from all other countries? Let your child see you enjoy the sports and athletic activities that you play, modeling the philosophy that you don’t always need to win or be the best to enjoy playing sports.
  • Do You Have A Hidden Agenda? Be honest with yourself about why you want your child to play organized sports. What do you want her to gain from the experience? Are your intentions based on providing her with pleasurable, social activities that develop a better sense of self-worth, skills, and sportsmanship? Or do you harbor dreams of her turning her topspin forehand into a collegiate scholarship, or riches and fame? A child’s participation in sports and the importance attached to it should not be driven by a parent’s desire to use her child’s sports accomplishments for ulterior purposes.

It’s your responsibility to teach good sportsmanship

  • You Set the Rules. It’s ultimately your responsibility to teach good sportsmanship to your children, both as a participant and as a spectator. If you observe your child engaged in poor sportsmanship, regardless of whether his coach corrects him or not, you must discuss your child’s misbehavior and insensitivity with him after the game. If a coach is ignoring, allowing, or encouraging poor sportsmanship, you need to make your objections known to the coach in a private discussion.
  • Watching and Learning. Whether you’re watching the Olympics on TV or attending a high-school sporting event, you can always find “teachable moments” regarding sportsmanship. Ask your child her opinions of: players who showboat and taunt their opponents; the costs to the team of a technical foul, or being ejected from a game for unsportsman-like conduct; and the appropriate behavior of opposing players toward one another after a game. During these “teachable moments” ask her open-ended questions and listen more than you talk or lecture.

Tips for Coaches

swimming-instructor-with-group-of children
Swimming coach with a group of children.

Coaches nurture good sportsmanship. They should embody parents’ values regarding good sportsmanship. A coach must model good sportsmanship at every level and make it a core goal of his work with kids.

I recommend that every youth sports coach engage his players in a detailed discussion of good sportsmanship as soon as he forms his team. A written contract, perhaps titled The Good Sportsmanship Code, should be given to every child and his parent to sign. The contract should spell out what the coach expects from each player in terms of good sportsmanship, including the following areas:

  • Cheating
  • Losing one’s temper
  • Negative criticism of teammates, coaches, referees, and opposing players
  • Blaming teammates for mistakes or a poor team performance
  • “Trash talk” and taunting opponents
  • Showboating
  • Arguing referees’ calls and judgments
  • The need to congratulate one’s opponents after a game

Coaching children is an honor and a privilege that carries with it a moral responsibility to contribute to the healthy character development of young players. Coaches who equate “trying your best” as the definition of success — and who value, expect, and demand good sportsmanship from their players — help shape the moral, ethical, and spiritual character of children.

Communicate often with your child’s coach to make sure he takes this responsibility seriously.

Additional Reading: article from
Sore Loser

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About the Author: Yvonne Wonder

As the founder and managing director of Destination Sitters, LLC, a national hotel and event babysitting service, and the mother of two children, I strongly believe that family comes first. I personally needed babysitting when I moved to San Diego 14 years ago. Like most parents, I assumed there were standards for temporary babysitting; in reality, there are no state standards or licensing requirements for temporary babysitting. The idea for Destination Sitters was born! I wanted to Give Parents Peace of Mind® when traveling with their children, so I created strict screening requirements for the sitters we refer. There is nothing like the peace of mind that comes from getting great professional help to care for your children, especially when traveling away from home. I and my partners, along with our office staff, have that one goal in mind with everything we do. Through the years of working with children, I have been inspired to write three books, and this blog for parents’ and children’s wellbeing. I believe the best way to teach a child is leading by example, with love, honesty, integrity, compassion, perseverance, and personal responsibility. Learning these values and teaching children that all women and men are equal will encourage them to dream big to be anything they want to be! An entrepreneur for over 35 years, I previously spent years running a construction and design company with two offices in California and built million-dollar estates and remodeled existing ones. For three and half years, I was one of the primary designers on HGTV’s Curb Appeal. I have also been published in books, magazines and newspapers, and have been a featured designer in multiple showcase houses.

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