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Tips for teaching your child about sportsmanship
My husband and I both grew up in sports families. We watched and played team sports from a very early age and learned about “being a good sport” from coaches, teammates, siblings and our parents. While we learned what good sportsmanship is from more positive experiences, we also learned about poor sportsmanship. In junior high I made the softball All-Star team in our small-town community summer league. I was proud of the accomplishment, but my excitement came to an abrupt halt when parents of children that were cut from the team loudly proclaimed their disappointment in the coaches’ selection. An adult walked on the field in an attempt to dispute the decision, and voiced opinions on why other children should have made the team instead of me. In that moment, I was embarrassed. At such a young age, I was the focus of negative attention — in front of my community. And, despite being part of the team, felt shamed by someone else’s display of poor sportsmanship.
Through this experience, I learned the importance of sportsmanship as players and how parents could work toward being good sports too. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Arizona (BCBSAZ) is a trusted resource for health and wellness tips and resources not only for its members, but for all Arizonans. Our commitment to being mentally and physically healthy this year, alongside BCBSAZ, has us focusing on the importance of teaching sportsmanship in youth sports.
Our oldest daughter has been participating in competitive youth rock climbing since she was invited to try out for the team at just six years old. We have hundreds of examples of teammates, competitors, coaches and parents showing incredible sportsmanship. Unfortunately, we also have a handful of less than awesome experiences leaving a deep impression on our daughter and teammates, much like my own negative experience as a child. This happens in all sports, at all ages, and at all competition levels. The importance of teaching sportsmanship in youth sports comes with two different messages. Teach your child how to be a good sport and teach them how to recognize bad sportsmanship in a way that does not negatively impact their desire to participate.
Coaches in youth sports generally have a commitment to teaching about good sportsmanship. Your children will learn the basics by participating in organized youth sports. They’ll learn to cheer for their teammates and encourage each other. They’ll learn to be excited to win and acknowledge personal growth. Some sports for younger children, like t-ball, line up to shake hands or give high fives with opposing teams at the end of every game. Although the coaches teach the introduction of instilling positive behaviors, it’s not only the coach’s responsibility to teach your child how to be a good sport.
Tips for teaching your child about sportsmanship
Proactively talk to your child about the right and wrong way to behave. Learning how to react to not winning is a critical lesson in sportsmanship for children. Expressing emotions, whether it be anger or sadness, is healthy for children and should be supported. However, good sportsmanship must be maintained on and off the court regardless of the disappointment.
Observe your child’s interactions with teammates and competitors. Although each rock climber receives a personal score in competitions, the overall score of all teammates lead to team ranks too. Teams practice together and show support when their teammates are climbing.
Competitors are in the same competition categories as they grow up competing against each other, so they form bonds and friendships despite not living in the same cities or states. Your child’s behavior and interactions with competitors from other teams are an important opportunity to display sportsmanship too.
Set the right example
Your child will follow your lead when you set the right example. Instead of only pointing out incorrect behaviors, identify and positively celebrate when your child is uplifting a teammate or competitor. Congratulate your child for being a good sport through the losses and help them understand the value in not winning.
Strive to be your best
Teach your children that although in team sports it feels good to win, every day can be a success when they see the value in striving to be their best. Every step in bettering yourself physically and mentally is a win.
You can only control your own behavior
The hardest lesson I learned as a young athlete is that you are only in control of your own behavior. If bad sportsmanship is directed at you, you choose your own response. Teach your children to feel proud for the way they conduct themselves in a positive manner because as they grow, we don’t always have the opportunity to help them navigate the hard things.
Do you have a personal example of the importance of teaching sportsmanship in youth sports?
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