Shake hands. Help a competitor back up after a fall. Be gracious in victory and have a good attitude when you lose. The art of teaching your child to be a good sport is tough - but it all starts with you, the adult.
Before the game begins, most of us, from the 10-year-old pee wee soccer players to the 45-year-old rec league volleyball champs, understand good sportsmanship and what it looks like.
But, as we’ve seen time and again in viral videos, when the game gets heated, good behavior tends to go out the window. Unfortunately, that’s when we see the worst sides of players, coaches, and fans come out. And, most of the time, it’s the parents who are loudest examples of bad behavior.
The ABCs of sportsmanship
According to the Association for Applied Sport Psychology, being a good sport is pretty simple: Show respect and concern not only for your teammates and coaches but also for your opponents and officials. In other words, treat others the way you’d want to be treated.
Those concepts are easy to understand when you’re interacting with others on the field of play. But what about celebrating after a goal or a touchdown? How does excitement turn into lousy conduct?
There can be a bit of a gray area here, says Dr. Nicole Mavrides, child and adolescent psychiatry expert with the University of Miami Health System. “It can be hard to tell when excitement ends, and poor sportsmanship begins,” she says. “Especially since kids see celebrations in the NFL and the NBA. It’s okay to get excited, but coaches need to set expectations. You can get excited and cheer, but don’t make the other team feel bad. Play fair.”
"But that was a bad call, ref!"
Dealing with success with dignity is one part of the sportsmanship equation.
The other is handling the bad calls, disagreements and, of course, losing with composure and grace. This is hard for many people, especially kids. Sporting events can be intense. It's okay to feel emotions, and even show them from time to time. However, the key is to take a breath and not let it impact how you treat others, especially when things aren’t going your way.
“As parents, you can remind kids that failure is not the same as losing,” says Dr. Mavrides. “If your child loses the game, it doesn’t mean they failed or did horrible. Review with them everything that went well during the game, and what they can build on for the future.”
Parents need to get in the sportsmanship game
When parents are good-natured and positive during their kids’ sporting events, it sets an excellent example for everyone, young and old.
“Kids model their behavior after their parents,” says Dr. Mavrides. “When parents cheer for the other team, say 'good game' and don’t yell at the refs or coaches; that really makes an impression. It’s important for parents to keep this in mind, even when things get tense during the game.”
Wyatt Myers is a contributing writer for UMiami Health News.
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