Good sportsmanship is an important skill to learn. However, as with most values our children do not usually learn it by just talking about it. Usually they “catch it by our actions or the actions of others.” Thus, we as parents and adults need to model the good sportsmanship behavior we want our children to show.
This is time of year many children are starting to play different sports and learning the basics of good sportsmanship. Parent can best teach their children to be good sports by:
• Modeling good sportsmanship. This means showing respect to others on and off the field. Praising your child for what they did right. Even if they did not do well, find something they did better than last time and praise them for it or say, “You’ll do better next time.” Don’t make fun of any child. College athletes were asked what their parents said that made them feel great during or after a game. “I love to watch you play!” had the most responses. This is something everyone can say.
• Avoiding the use of negative words or inappropriate language when the other team makes a good play or comes on the field.
• Showing respect to the other team and helping your child learn to appreciate the talents of others. You can applaud the efforts of all players on both teams. If other parents are showing unsportsmanlike behavior, explain to your child and help them understand what appropriate sportsmanship is.
• Respecting authority including the coach, umpire or referee. If you disagree with the call or something happens that is unfair, work through official channels. Always act in a respectful and noncritical manner. Model self-control and help your children learn self-control. Many children have been embarrassed by the actions of their parent.
• Explaining to your child what they should have done when you notice your child displaying unsportsmanlike behavior. Watch to see if they correct themselves in the same or similar situation in the future. If they do compliment them.
• Encouraging fair competition. Competition can make us want to do our best. Everyone on the team should get a chance to play. Parents should not encourage, support or condone cheating or dishonesty and especially for the sake of winning. A team should win due to hard work and good performance. Ensure your child understands that losing does not mean “bad” and winning does not always mean “good.” Games should end with a handshake between the teams.
Be sure your child knows you love them, no matter how they performed on the field. Not everyone will become a professional player. Children should have fun playing the sport, not feel pressured or so focused on winning they don’t enjoy the game. Team sports help a child learn sportsmanship and how to be a team member. Having a positive attitude, appreciating the contributions of others, and working as part of a team are characteristics that will help your child now and in the future.
Pat Brinkman is the Family and Consumer Sciences Educator for Ohio State University Extension.
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