Raising Kids to be Good Sports

Boys playing flag football

By Vicki Kirkman, Courier & Press, Oct. 13, 2015 – After a recent hockey game, I overhead my 4-year old son ask, “Did you win, Daddy? Did you beat the other team?” He was jumping up and down with excitement to hear the good news about a victory.

His happy face turned sad when he realized his dad’s team had lost.  My husband saw his disappointment and shared that despite the loss, he did his best and still had a great time playing.

Learning to lose gracefully and be a fair sport can be hard for anyone.  One of the greatest lessons parents can teach their children is to enjoy the experience of sports instead of focusing on the outcome.  Winning a championship game or being ranked number one is great, but learning how to handle disappointment or seeing someone else win is valuable too.

Parents can help their children learn good sports etiquette in several ways.  Encouraging them to try their hardest and focus on aspects of the game like meeting new friends can take the pressure off of winning. Helping children set personal goals allows them to improve their individual growth.

Parents should also stress the importance of cooperating with others, listening to their coach and maintaining a positive attitude. The easiest way parents can teach their kids how to play fair and be a good sport is to model good sportsmanship behavior themselves.

The website www.kidshealth.org provides other helpful tips for children and young adults to remember.  Those 10 tips include:

  1. Be polite to everyone you’re playing with and against. Keep language polite and don’t “trash talk.”
  2. Don’t show off, just play your best. If you’re good, people will notice anyway!
  3. Tell your opponents “good game” whether you have won or lost.
  4. Learn the rules of the game and show up for practices and games on time.
  5. Listen to your coaches and follow their directions about playing.
  6. Don’t argue with an official if you don’t agree with his or her call. If you don’t understand a certain call, wait until the end of the game and ask your coach to explain it to you.
  7. Don’t make up excuses or blame a teammate when you lose. Take responsibility for your own performance and try to learn from what happened.
  8. Be willing to sit out so another team member can get in the game, even if you think you are a better player.
  9. Play fair and don’t cheat.
  10. Cheer for yourself and teammates. Keep a positive attitude!

There are many benefits to playing sports.  Participating in sports is an excellent way to get physical exercise.  It can help children burn off extra energy, manage stress, lower depression and maintain a healthy weight.  Being involved in athletics teaches teamwork and responsibility. It also allows children to meet other kids with similar interests.  Lastly, children that participate in sports often have a positive body image and gain confidence in their abilities, which leads to higher self-esteem.

Teaching kids the importance of being a graceful winner and loser is a necessary part of the game.  When good sportsmanship is practiced everyone wins!

This column is contributed by Vicki Kirkman, school social worker for Youth First, Inc., a local nonprofit dedicated to strengthening youth and families. To learn more about Youth First, visit www.youthfirstinc.org or call 812-421-8336.