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Wednesday, March 16, 2016

All Together Now: 7 Ways to Encourage Good Sportsmanship in Kids

Photo by Torrey Wiley (Flickr)

My girls and I love playing and watching sports. That means we have dozens of opportunities each week to exercise and observe sportsmanship in action. One example of poor losing this week reminded me of why I teach my girls to demonstrate dignity whether they win or lose and to show respect to themselves and their teammates, opponents, coaches, and officials. Your kids can learn these important skills, too, when you use these seven tips to encourage good sportsmanship.

Avoid Pressuring or Criticizing Kids

We all know parents who push their kids to play better or who criticize their kids for making a wrong move or missing a play. These pressures suck the fun out of games for the players, coaches, and fans. They also plant seeds of negative emotions in kids who begin to think that that there's something wrong with them because they can't win. Give your kids permission to play at their skill level and make mistakes as you encourage them to do their best, love the game, and play nice with others.

Encourage Kids to Play Fair, Respect the Rules, and Respect Each Other

Years ago, one of our neighbor girls cheated at almost every game she played. It was exhausting and quickly turned my girls off from playing with her. I use this example sometimes when I want to encourage my girls to play fairly and show respect, two traits of good sportsmanship.

Shout Encouragement, Not Direction, From the Sidelines

At a baseball game last summer, one of the parents became known as the sideline coach. She kept yelling at her kid to run faster, throw harder, and do better. Her yelling only made her child nervous and distracted the team. I remind my girls of this story when they complain about a teammate who's struggling to master a new skill, remind them that they can encourage rather than coach her. It's also a good reminder for me to shut up when I'm tempted to be a sideline coach.

Applaud Good Plays, Even if the Other Team Makes Them

During a game of checkers last week, my daughter jumped five of my pawns in one move. Her sister and I enthusiastically praised her and enjoyed watching her beam with pride. Cheering for good plays is part of sportsmanship because it encourages other players and shows our appreciation for all skill and talent.

Focus on Skill and Character Growth

A few years ago, one of my girls spent the summer on the swim team. She didn't win any races, but I watched her swimming skills improve, and I was super-proud of her for pushing herself to wake up early every day for practice. Instead of focusing on winning, point out the skills and character growth your kids gain while playing games and focus on those improvements. I never want my kids to think they're only as good as their last great play or win because personal development is way more important in the big picture of life.

Never Forget That it's Just a Game

Too often, kids get caught up in winning and think it's the most important thing ever. It's not. Sports are games that last a few minutes or hours and are then over. Their outcome won't affect your child's life success. Their reputation as a team player, however, can last for years.

Be a Role Model

Kids are like sponges and will do what they see their parents do at home and on the sidelines. We should be acting with dignity and respect on the ball field, during family card games, and all the time. And since our kids are always watching, let's try to be positive role models when we're passed over for a promotion at work, dealing with a difficult neighbor, or behind the wheel.

Good sportsmanship skills follow our kids from the game field to the board room. Start now to cultivate and encourage your kids to practice sportsmanship. When we play all together now, everyone wins.

Find more about the author: Kim Hart

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