Spring is upon us and children are flocking to soccer fields and baseball diamonds. For some, this will be an entirely new experience while many have been looking forward to the next sports season as soon as the last one ended. With the desire to get back to playing sports comes the desire to win.
Winning is everything in our society. This “take no prisoners” philosophy pervades the media. Dreadful unsportsmanlike behavior of athletes and coaches in professional sports is condoned. It is not at all surprising that parents and coaches of our youth show a parallel increase in outrageous acts of violence and trash talking. Our children are influenced by the professionals they idolize. But, more directly, they learn poor sportsmanship from their own parents and leaders.
All too often, coaches choose winning over building character. Competitive sports can offer a unique opportunity to teach kids ethics that can guide them both on and off the field as well as a great opportunity for learning social skills. As a parent, you have a responsibility to offset the win-at-all-costs approach by instilling in your children good sportsmanship principles right from the start.
Step One: Know yourself well.
Before you can expect your children to show good sportsmanship, you need to examine how important winning is to you. How much are you willing to sacrifice in order to win? Be honest with yourself. Winning is a “high.” You may feel that your child’s success is your success. It’s hard to resist the urge to live vicariously through your child’s accomplishments.
Step Two: Emphasize effort, not outcome.
“It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game” is easier to say than it is to put into practice. The goal is to emphasize the process rather than the final product (the win or the loss). Get in the habit of praising steps in the right direction rather than the end result. For instance, rather than praising your child when he hits a line drive, commend him for improving his swing. His confidence and belief in his or her self will be a great benefit to learning social skills and will affect the way they interact with others.
Step Three: Don’t fall into the parent trap.
Remember that you are the parent, not the coach. Watch out for the following Parent Traps. Your child models behavior after seeing your sportsmanship behaviors. These negative behaviors communicate to your child that it is okay to be disrespectful and exhibit poor sportsmanship. Keep in mind they will be learning social skills from all situations and environments.
Five Parent Sportsmanship Traps:
To see steps 4 and 5 in developing good sportsmanship and learning social skills, click here.