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How To Teach Kids Good Sportsmanship

With kids starting soccer at the age of three and swimming at the age of five these days, teaching good sportsmanship is more important than ever. Joel Fish, director of the Center for Sports Psychology in Philadelphia and author of 101 Ways to Be a Terrific Sports Parent states that there are more than forty million kids playing youth sports, and the figures are sharply rising, especially for girls.

Understanding how to be a good sportsperson is perhaps one of the best life lessons kids can learn. Good sportsmanship is when people who are playing or watching a sport, treat each other with due respect. It's easy to get caught up in a game and only focus on winning the match, but what’s important to remember is that there is much more to be gained from playing sports than just a winning record. When children are involved in sports, they are able to learn and put into practice values that will stay with them for the rest of their lives.

Good sportsmanship may be hard to define sometimes, but its concepts include being able to respect one's opponents, to win without gloating and be able to lose gracefully. Here are tips you can follow to help build sportsmanship in your kids:

1. Expose Them Early

Encourage your child to start playing games at an early age, so they start understanding the concept of being winners and losers. You can try board games, bowling, sports, even friendly competitions among family members. Winning and losing graciously can only be learned by practice. 

2. Be Your Child’s Role Model

You should always praise all participating athletes in a sport, including your child's opponents. When attending athletic events or watching them on television with your child, refrain from criticizing or condemning athletes' performances. What message you send to your kids through your own behaviour is important. Let the child see you fully enjoy sports events and athletic activities. Model the philosophy - that you don't always need to win to enjoy playing sports. And it is also equally important to model how to act in both winning and losing situations. This includes praising other children’s performances and wins as well.

3. Teach Them To Play Fair

An important part of being a good sportsperson is always following the rules of the game and playing the best game possible within those boundaries. Never support a kid’s efforts to win through attempts to go around the rules. Cheating is never acceptable.

4. Focus On The Effort

As a parent or teacher, focus on the effort your child puts into the sport or activity they’re participating in and not on the outcome of the game. Their hours of practice and hard work are what helped get them to this point and that’s worth valuing and cheering them on.

5. Respect The Other Team

Whether a child’s team wins or loses, it's important to show respect for the efforts of other team members. Teach kids that if the other team wins the game, then to accept defeat, acknowledge their abilities and move on without any hard feelings. And if their team wins, resist bragging, as that’s a strong component to be a gracious winner.

6. Encourage Teammates

Team sports work best when each member supports the team. Praise teammates for what they have done well and at the same time, encourage them when they make mistakes. Avoid criticism and unkind actions. Parents should model this behaviour by praising kids for specific things they’ve done well, even if they made a mistake or may not have played as expected.

7. Avoid Arguing 

Teach your child to stay focused and concentrate only on playing the game instead of giving into arguments with coaches, teammates or referees. Always avoid exchanging bad language and negative words and encourage them to do the same.

8. Focus On Fun 

Tell your child about everything they gain by playing a team sport, like new and improved skills, new friends and teammates, and new attitudes to help throughout life. You should emphasize the fact that they're playing to have fun, get exercise, and build team spirit.

9. Respect The Decisions of Referees 

Teach children to respect the decision of coaches, officials and referees and not to criticize their decisions publicly. Good sportsmanship requires that you accept a call, even if you disagree with it, and get back into the game with full focus.

10. Teach Them to ‘High Five’ After a Game

Encourage kids to cheer for their teammates and to congratulate the other child/team who won the race/match. Cheering is a great way to show support and motivate kids. The more they themselves practice it, the easier it is to do on the field, cheering is one of the greatest emotional lessons a young athlete should learn. A good sport should enjoy the activity and know how to end a game on a positive note, whether they won or not. Threats, criticism, anger and other negative expressions should never acceptable. 

It's up to the adults to teach their kids that it's not whether you win or lose a game, but good sportsmanship is how you play the game.

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