Sports teach kids many important lessons. One of those lessons is how to play hard and fair, while also being a good sport. Good sporting behavior not only teaches children how to compete without losing their composure, but it also helps them understand the importance of positive social skills. By teaching and reinforcing these values at a young age, children are prepared for the greater competitive opportunities they’ll face during their teenage years.
Defining Good Sporting Behavior
By definition, good sporting behavior means playing a game by the rules, respecting those rules, and being courteous to teammates, the referee, and the other team. A good sport may be unhappy about losing a game or match, but they won’t take out their unhappiness on the other team. Good sports remain calm and respectful, and think about how they can improve their performance the next time. On the other hand, the good sport who is ahead on points when the game ends also remains respectful and does not gloat or brag. Keeping score does infuse some level of competition, yet respecting others and the game itself should be the highest priority.
The Importance of Being a Good Sport
There are three major lifelong lessons children can learn from being a good sport:
1. The score is less important than playing the game the right way, being respectful of yourself and others, and enjoying the process. During and after a game, being humble and thankful for the experience is a goal to strive for. Assessing one’s performance and trying to improve it next time—regardless of the outcome of any sporting event—is the ultimate objective.
2. Good sporting behavior teaches kids to accept losing gracefully and respectfully. Losing isn’t very fun, but it’s a necessary part of life. Good sporting behavior teaches children that there are times we all need to swallow our pride, respect those who won, accept our losses, then move on.
3. Finally, good sporting behavior teaches children to be humble and respectful after winning or succeeding. Respect goes both ways. Winning is certainly something to celebrate, but that doesn’t mean we forget about the kids or adults on the other side of the field who are disappointed. Next week, it could be our team on the losing side. That should be respected, along with the fact that that all players and people are equal—winning doesn’t make you better, losing doesn’t make you worse.
Tips for Encouraging Good Sporting Behavior
Encouraging children to be good sports is often more difficult than it seems. Each child is different, after all, and just as it’s important to teach kids that winning and losing are both natural parts of life, it’s also important to remember that emotional tensions often run high during periods of high energy—such as while playing sports. Remember to always approach any arguments or fights calmly and objectively.
Here are three more tips to keep in mind when encouraging kids to play hard, play fair, and be a good sport:
Strive to Be a Role Model
Always remember you’re going to be the one the children look up to when coaching, supervising, or pairing up with kids for sports and competitive activities. You never want to start an argument or lose your cool in front of them. Cheer your children on from the sidelines and never talk meanly about the other team. This should even be remembered while watching other sporting events.
Establish Rules Early
Make it a point to explain the rules of the game early on and follow those rules at all times. If you ever see anyone breaking the rules, call the child out and remedy the rule breaking as quickly as you can. Point out the rules and examples of the rules in action while watching other teams play. Explain the rules so they make sense. Stress the importance of listening to and respecting the decisions of referees and coaches.
Also, make sure your kids know how to behave while on the field and off. Set ground rules for what to do when winning or losing a match and hold the children to those rules. Try to end each match or game—no matter who won or lost—with a series of handshakes between both teams and heads held high.
Emphasize Performance and Progress
Instead of emphasizing winning and losing, emphasize goals like having fun, learning how to work together as a team, or accomplishing personal performance goals. Keep tabs on the progress of the team and compliment each member when significant progress is made. Whenever possible, concentrate on positive aspects instead of negative ones.
This goes for the opposing team as well. When you compare the opposing team to the players of your own team, make sure to positively point out things the other team may be doing differently and explain how your team can do the same. Use these moments to teach instead of criticize.
If your children lose a game or match, instead of criticizing each member, talk about how they performed positively. Stress the importance of improvement while providing examples of how they can work on improving. Set new goals if need be. Criticism can be hard to take, especially at a young age, but mixing it with new goals to work on and praise for other things helps children reflect on the conversation and all of the points that were made.
Teaching children to be good sports begins at home, during practice, and in those crucial moments during the big game. By encouraging kids to play fair and take wins and losses with a head held high and a humble heart, you help them ease into a world where they can confidently tackle challenges head-on and succeed with flying colors.