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Let's Talk about Sportsmanship

Talking About Sportsmanship

FOR AGES: Six and up

THE SCENE
Eight-year-old Alissa's soccer team is just about to lose its big game when you see her shove one of her opponents. The referee removes her from the game, and she sits sulking on the sidelines.

It's always upsetting to see your child behave like a bad sport. But you can turn these incidents into conversations about good sportsmanship. Give your child some time to cool off and then approach the subject in a neutral way.

THE WORDS YOU NEED

By talking with children, listening to their experiences, and setting positive examples we can help them develop the life-long skills they need to work and play with others. Here are a few suggestions to kick-off the conversation.

The Words: "You know, it's not like you to act like that on the field."

The Reason: Children are usually ashamed and embarrassed when they act out publicly. Try to begin the conversation without being accusatory. Let them know that you understand that there might be unusual circumstances behind their behavior.

The Words: "I'm wondering what was going on."

The Reason: Try to listen carefully to your child's experience of what happened. Was she under too much pressure to win? Did someone on the other team push her? Was she responding to a referee's unfair call?

The Words: "It's frustrating when that happens, isn't it?"

The Reason: It's always helpful to validate a child's feelings, even if you're not happy with her behavior.

The Words: "Those kinds of things may happen again; let's think about some other ways to cope."

The Reason: Try to come up acceptable strategies for the inevitable frustrations of playing a sport. Encourage her to talk with her coach about her concerns. Her coach probably has experience helping children cope effectively with the pressures of losing, unfair calls, or opponents who don't play fair.

The Words: "Everyone likes to win, but it's more important to me that you're having fun."

The Reason: Help your children put winning in perspective and learn to lose with dignity. The trick here is to make sure that you're telling them the truth about your feelings about winning. Talk with them about times when winning and/or losing have been important to you.

CONVERSATION TIPS

Even though you might be appalled by your child's display of bad sportsmanship, it's important to remain calm during the conversation. Be clear about your values and expectations.

BEYOND THE RAP
Good sportsmanship begins at home. Often, kids who are bad sports feel like they are under a lot of pressure from their parents to win at all costs. What kind of an example are you setting for your kids? Ask yourself these questions:

  • How do I behave when I'm playing sports or board games with my children?
  • How do I react when they make a mistake? When they win? When they lose?
  • How do I behave at my children's soccer, Little League, or Pop Warner games?
  • Do I ever get visibly angry at the coach or the referee?

Look around at the parents of your child's teammates. Are they behaving like good sports? If not, talk with your child about their behavior, and about how hard it must be for their children.

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