Well, it is that time of year where youth sports are beginning or have already started. This is a time where we are cheering and encouraging our children to perform to their best abilities. Cheering and encouraging are the keywords here. I have witnessed a variety of behaviors that parents display at their children’s sporting events; ranging from yelling encouraging statements to disparaging remarks about the umpires/referees and even their own children. I have seen parents take their child aside right after the game and yell at them for a mistake that they made during the game. I have even seen a coach delay the pace of a game so he can yell at his own child for being “absent-minded.”
Good Sportsmanship Starts with You
Parents and kids alike love sports, and it is easy to get caught up in a game and focus only on winning. We, adults, need to take a step back, really look and see and tell the truth about our behaviors at our children’s sporting contests. The best way we can teach our children good sportsmanship is by displaying good sportsmanship in the stands. If we are to look at this through the social learning theory, our children behave in ways that others behave around them. If a child witnesses their parent yelling at the official on the field, then they may do the same when they think a bad call was made. This does not just apply to the child’s parent. Children can model behavior that other unrelated adults are displaying. Therefore, if a group of parents are all berating the official, this sends a strong message to the children that it is okay to behave in this manner. There is much more to be gained from the sports experience than winning.
Good sportsmanship is one of the life lessons that children can learn and grow from in sports. Here are a few ways that we can help influence good sportsmanship for our children and even our children’s teammates.
How to Influence Good Sportsmanship
Cheer for Everyone
Do not just cheer for your child, but cheer for everyone out on the field of play. Yes, that means even the other team’s players. When a great play is made, it should not matter what team that child plays for. A good mindset for watching our children’s games is that we want to see a good game and good plays. Enjoy the contest and struggle of the sport and not just the wins. Yes, it is great to see our children be part of the winning team, but we can also enjoy a great game even at the expense of a loss. If you lose, don’t make excuses. If you win, don't rub it in.
Be Supportive of the Coach and Officials
Do not make any negative criticisms about the coach in your child’s presence or even in the presence of other parents. For example, if you have a concern about the team’s behavior or the lack of improvement of your child, talk to the coach in private and express your concerns appropriately and respectfully. The majority of the coaches are volunteers, and they are taking their own personal time to try to teach your child a sport. Be mindful of this point. Show respect for yourself , your team, coaches and officials.
Do Not Blame Another Teammate for the Loss
This just teaches our children that when we lose, it is someone else’s fault. Yes, your child may not have made a mistake during the game, but they're part of a team. One of the best lines in sports is “We win as a team, and we lose as a team.” Athletics can be a great medium to teach responsibility and how to cope with disappointment. No one wins 100% of the time, but I can assure you that 100% of people have had the feeling of disappointment. If we model how to accept and cope with disappointment appropriately, we can build resilience in our children. If someone else makes a mistake, remain encouraging and avoid critical comments.
Have Fun and Enjoy the Game
Children join sports teams to make friends and learn something new. Remind your children that they should have fun and enjoy playing the game no matter if you win or lose. As parents we want to assure our children that it's ok to make mistakes or have less skills than other players. Teamwork and encouraging words creates and healthy and positive team.
With these simple ways, we can teach our children good sportsmanship. Remember, it's not about how far you hit the ball, how many points you made or touchdowns you scored. It's about being involved in something that supports teamwork, learning new skills and enjoying the ability to play the game and have fun.
CHI Health offers a range of behavioral health services for children and adolescents. Learn more at CHIhealth.com/behavioral
Originally Published: April 2016. Updated: January 2023.