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It's Not Whether You Win or Lose: Teaching Good Sportsmanship

Strive to model good sportsmanship, and teach it to your kids .

It's Not Whether You Win or Lose: Teaching Good Sportsmanship

Danger Zone

Here are some comments not to tell your teen:

“You've got to play your best; it's the championship, and the team's counting on you.”

“If you play well, we'll be so proud of you.”

“I've got ten bucks riding on you getting a home run.”

One danger of playing competitive sports is that kids begin to think that if they don't win, they're failures. (Some coaches reinforce this philosophy.) This is obviously a recipe for major disappointment.

From the time your child first sets foot on a field or court, it's important to convey a love of the game, not a love of winning. If you feel your teen is overly wrapped up with winning, it's not too late to try to change her attitude. (Talking about what Tonya Harding was willing to do to win is a good start.)

Point out that success is embodied in lots of athletes who don't win or come in first place. Why is the team that loses the Super Bowl viewed as the Big Loser, when it was a good enough team to make it to the Super Bowl?

You might also make note of sports events where people compete even though they know in advance they'll never win. (Tune in to any marathon.)

Danger Zone

Teen boys (and an occasional teen girl) who are heavily involved in sports— particularly wrestlers and football players—may think about using anabolic steroids (hormones that stimulate muscular development). Their use has been banned by sports organizations, and you should stress that they shouldn't be used. Steroids can be very damaging, particularly during periods of growth.

Try to help your teen focus on improving her own performance and skills, not on the number of games her team wins. That's the point of it anyway.

Modeling good sportsmanship is also important—and hopefully something you've been doing since your kid's first days at peewee football. Kids sometimes tell stories of teams that curse their opponents, or hold out spit-filled hands during the final handshake of the game. Chances are they were taught by parents or coaches who cared way too much about winning the game. (When Little League dads duke it out on the field, as they have in some communities, what are the kids supposed to think?)

Model positive attitudes before, during, and after a game:

  • Emphasize that the point of the competition is for fun, not for winning. Encouraging and cooperating with teammates is just as important as making the best play.
  • Don't applaud when the other team makes a bad play, and do applaud when they make a good play!
  • Don't belittle the umpire or second-guess the coach.
  • Don't coach from the sidelines. It will only confuse the players (and mortify your teen).
  • If she loses a game, you may want to acknowledge the toughness of the other team. Then note something your teen or another team member did that made for a really good play. (Few games are a total disaster!)

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