How to instill great sportsmanship in your children

As with many important behavioural lessons, helping kids understand and exhibit good sportsmanship is easier when you start early.

 Kids learn how to be a good sport from the adults in their lives, especially their parents and their coaches. | Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Coaches aren’t the only ones responsible for instilling a sense of sportsmanship in their young athletes. Parents have a role, too, in helping their children develop good sportsmanship.

These pointers can assist you in creating an environment where sportsmanship reigns supreme – whether your child wins or loses.

Begin early

As with many important behavioural lessons, helping kids understand and exhibit good sportsmanship is easier when you start early. Help little ones to understand why they shouldn’t become angry or upset when they lose a game, and start talking about the importance of being a good sport long before kids start participating in team sports. The younger your child is when they start learning these lessons, the easier it will be for them to retain them and behave accordingly.

Lead by example

It’s not easy to teach your child to be a good sport when they watch you berate officials, chastise their coach or complain bitterly about a loss. Your kids learn more about how to interact with and react to the world by observing your actions than anything else, so you must make an effort to model the qualities of good sportsmanship at all times. Even if you’re seething over what you perceive to be a bad call, don’t let your child know that you’re angry. Witnessing your tirades, after hearing a long speech on the virtues of sportsmanship, not only sends a conflicting message to your child, but also calls your teachings into question when they don’t match up to your actions.

Enjoyment and effort should take precedence over victory

If your kids learn that winning at all costs is the most important aspect of participating in team sports or playing a game, they start to focus solely on winning and not on playing the game for enjoyment. When they believe that the only important thing is to win, they’re more likely to behave in unsportsmanlike ways or even to cheat in order to bring home a victory. Talk about how much fun your child has playing soccer after a game, not all the ways in which they could have won.

After a win, avoid gloating

Rubbing a victory in an opponent’s face is just as unsportsmanlike as throwing a temper tantrum after a loss. You should never encourage your child to gloat after a win, especially in front of the team they’ve just beaten. Talk about accepting both a defeat and a victory with grace, and look for talking points about the rudeness of gloating to drive your point home.

Recognise that heckling is a kind of bullying

Too many sports parents believe that heckling is part of playing a game, encouraging that behaviour in their children and perpetuating a cycle of bullying, both on and off the field. Help your child to understand that there is no difference between trash-talking and bullying, and make sure they understand that you won’t tolerate either. Heckling another team, either during the game or afterwards, is a shining example of bad sportsmanship and bad behaviour.

Encourage rather than criticise

At the end of a game or after practice, it’s easy to point out your child’s mistakes and tell him what he could have done differently. While you may feel that you’re helping your child build his skills on the field, what you’re really doing is reinforcing the idea that winning is the most important part of playing a sport, and that you value results over effort. Please encourage your child to look for ways they can improve on their own, make a point of providing reassurance and avoid the urge to criticise even a bad performance.