Teaching good sportsmanship

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My oldest son loves sports and enjoys playing soccer, flag football, basketball and baseball. He plays sports year round and is always excited to play.

I’ve always encouraged my children to play organized sports. It is a great way for them to find camaraderie with peers, have fun, stay active and learn good sportsmanship.

At my son’s last basketball game, some rough play occurred (by both teams). Parents, players and coaches lost sight of the fun of youth sports and the court dissolved into yelling, cursing and finger pointing. There were moments that I was afraid a punch would be thrown! The players and families left without shaking hands and the mood will be tense the next time the two teams meet for a game.

I was so very disappointed in the lack of sportsmanship shown by some (not all) of the parents, coaches and players at the game. My son came home angry and blamed the other team entirely for the ugliness of the game. My husband and I talked with our son about the mistakes that were made by BOTH teams. Neither team was blameless. We also talked about good sportsmanship and the importance of showing respect for the other team and for the referees.

Unfortunately, I don’t think our basketball experience is uncommon in the world of youth sports. Somehow we’ve lost sight of playing for fun, win or lose, and the focus has changed to winning at all costs. While there’s nothing wrong with trying to win, I don’t think winning should be the focus of team sports for young children. There are many valuable life skills to be learned through team sports, winning a game or two is just icing on the cake.

As parents and coaches, it is important to model good sportsmanship for our children and their friends. Here are some guidelines for good sportsmanship that parents, coaches and players should follow.

  • Show respect. Parents and players should show respect to coaches, officials, teammates and the players on the other team. Respect means avoiding arguing, yelling and, most certainly, bad language. Respect also means accepting defeat if the other team wins or winning gracefully and resisting the urge to gloat. Games should always end with a handshake and positive feelings.
  • Give everyone a chance to play. Children have varying levels of athletic ability and it can be tempting to focus on winning and only play the more talented children. At the elementary school level, it is important to give every child, even those less skilled, a fair chance to play.
  • Encourage one another. Avoid negative comments and criticism and focus instead on encouragement and praise. Teammates should encourage one another and parents should encourage from the stands. Everyone should congratulate the winners, regardless of which team wins. Serious concerns about how the game was played should be discussed respectfully with coaches or officials after the game.
  • Have fun. Win or lose, don’t forget to have fun!
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