Playing youth sports benefits kids for a lifetime by teaching them valuable lessons on and off the field, such as teamwork, leadership, hard work and more.
Unfortunately, players and coaches can get so caught up in winning that they sometimes lose sight of why they’re on the field. If your kids play sports, chances are you’ve witnessed inappropriate and even shocking behavior from the opposing teammates or worse yet, coaches and other parents.
“Poor sportsmanship, which can be learned or tolerated by parents and coaches, can lead to issues later in life for kids,” warned Dr. Joe Congeni, director of sports medicine at Akron Children’s Hospital. “Problems in marriage, family life and especially the workplace, where teamwork is necessary, can arise. Kids may grow up thinking it’s okay to yell and fight to get their way.”
Remember the saying, “Actions speak louder than words?” That’s especially true when it comes to teaching your kids the basics of good sportsmanship, which should encompass respect for the game and rules, players and officials. Your behavior during practices and games will influence your kids more than any pep talk or lecture you give them.
Here are some suggestions on how to build good sportsmanship in your kids:
- Unless you’re coaching your child’s team, remember that you’re the parent. Shout words of encouragement, not directions, from the sidelines (there is a difference!).
- If you are your kid’s coach, don’t expect too much out of your own child. Don’t be harder on her than on anyone else on the team, but don’t play favorites either.
- Keep your comments positive. Don’t bad-mouth coaches, players or game officials. If you have a serious concern about the way games or practices are being conducted, or if you’re upset about other parents’ behavior, discuss it privately with the coach or with a league official.
- After a competition, it’s important not to dwell on who won or lost. Instead, try asking, “How did you feel you did during the game?” If your child feels weak at a particular skill, like throwing or catching, offer to work on it together before the next game.
- Applaud good plays no matter who makes them.
- Set a good example with your courteous behavior toward the parents of kids on the other team. Congratulate them when their kids win.
- Remember that it’s your kids, not you, who are playing. Don’t push them into a sport because it’s what you enjoyed. As kids get older, let them choose what sports they want to play and decide the level of commitment they want to make.
- Keep your perspective. It’s just a game. Even if the team loses every game of the season, it’s unlikely to ruin your child’s life or chances of success.
- Look for examples of good sportsmanship in professional athletes and point them out to your kids. Talk about the bad examples, too, and why they upset you.
- Finally, don’t forget to have fun. Even if your child isn’t the star, enjoy the game while you’re thinking of all the benefits your child is gaining — new skills, new friends and attitudes that can help all through life.