Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Are You Raising a Poor Sport?

Teaching Kids the Power of Good Sportsmanship

Would you ever consider telling your 5-year-old to shove the ballerina next to her in the recital to give your daughter the advantage? Or would you smile if your 3-year-old son poked the soccer goalie in the eye so he couldn’t see the ball anymore? Of course (hopefully) not! But somewhere between teaching our children basic sportsmanship etiquette when they are preschoolers, the messages are getting lost, until gradually they sometimes disappear entirely. While the recent scandal in the NFL where players are accused of intentionally injuring opponents in exchange for bonuses might be an extreme example, it does highlight the emphasis that our society places on winning above everything, and the downfall of sportsmanship.

As a mom of 4 very active children I am surrounded by sporting events, quiz bowl competitions, and academic contests, during which I have witnessed amazing sportsmanship, as well as a profound lack of it. There are two underlying themes I see when watching the engagements of kids during competition.

  1. The behaviors of parents are fairly accurate indicators of the sportsmanship that will be displayed by the child.
  2. Children who have never lost or failed tend to be the least equipped with sportsmanship skills.

Power of Parents

If you doubt the power of parents when it comes to developing sportsmanship skills, just sit and observe a typical, upper elementary or high school athletic event, but pay more attention to the adults in the stands than the kids on the field. The children who sneer at their opponents, play dirty, and gloat when victorious will most often have the parents who trash talk, applaud dirty plays, and take personal pride in the victory of their children. You know the ones – they appear to be missing their own high school days immensely and want to vicariously live through their kids.

Power of Losing

My oldest son once shared a very insightful thought with me.

I am so glad I lost so many matches when I first started wrestling. It taught me how to be a better winner.

As much as parents and children alike want the big W – Win – by their name, the lessons in losing are powerful. It often isn’t until a child has lost a game, match, or contest that he truly understands how it feels to be at the bottom of the list. I admit it was hard for me to watch my son struggle through his matches, competing against far more experienced athletes. But I too saw the lessons it taught. When he finally earned his first win his internal reaction was not evident on the mat – it was subdued and respectful of the other wrestler and coach. While he was shouting with excitement on the inside, he understood how hard the other wrestler had worked and didn’t want to take away from that effort by being outwardly boastful. Win, lose, or draw, his reactions on the mat were the same – a handshake and pat on the back to the opponent with the words “Good match”, and a “Thank you” to the opposing coach and referee.  

Teaching Kids Sportsmanship

Start young. When you play checkers, Go Fish, or tag in the front yard, always end the game with a smile and handshake. Focus on the experience you had – That was fun playing kickball with you, even though I fell at 2nd base!

Don’t always just let your child win. You are setting her up for disappointment and frustrations if she never experiences loss. While you might think that beating her at Memory is unfair, it is actually much better that she experience loss in a safe and secure environment where the loss is insignificant.

Watch your own reactions. Children will soak up our sportsmanship skills (or lack thereof) faster than they can kick a soccer ball. Even when you’re playing in your own adult league softball, make sure that your kids see you practice what you preach.

Help them right the wrongs. If you witness your child displaying poor sportsmanship, immediately step in and correct the situation. This can be done smoothly and without harsh confrontation, with even a simple reminder such as: I know you are frustrated you lost. Now you need to go back and shake that boy’s hand with dignity.

Set clear expectations. Kids don’t always realize their behaviors are displays of poor sportsmanship. Make sure they understand that there are many subtle ways they can be acting as “poor sports” that won’t be tolerated (even if the team coach doesn’t seem that affected or concerned).

  • Name calling or trash talking
  • Dirty plays
  • Blaming teammates for mistakes/bad plays/etc.
  • Arguing with referees and coaches
  • Over-the-top celebrating and showboating
  • Temper tantrums

Learning good sportsmanship skills is an evolutionary process for kids, but it will make their experiences in athletics and competitions more rewarding for everyone. This last weekend I saw that in full when I watched as one of my children competed in his first curling tournament. His was recognized as the youngest team to participate, but they were clearly some of the kids displaying the best sportsmanship. After every shot the boys gave each other knuckles – even when the shots failed. Yes – their inexperience showed and they left the tournament placing 2nd to last. But as I listened to others who were watching them curl say “Look at those little kids – they know how to be on a team,” I knew that my son’s team had won that weekend at developing character through sportsmanship.

Related posts:

  1. Tips for Raising a Confident Child
  2. Are You Raising an Overprotected Wimp?
  3. Raising Your Daughter to be Superwoman

View full post on Parenting Tips For Raising Successful Kids |

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