Playing youth sports can teach kids a lot of valuable life lessons including how to work as a team, what makes a good leader, the value of hard work, and more. But one thing that youth sports should always teach kids is how to be a good sport. Unfortunately, sometimes parents, coaches, and players get so caught up in winning we forget that’s not the only reason to step onto a field. Playing sports not only teaches kids how to be good athletes, but it can also teach them to be good people.
Here are 4 ways we sports coaches and parents can foster good sportsmanship among our youth athletes:
Explain that how you say something is just as important as what you say.
“Great job guys!” Did you say that with actual sincerity or is there is a little (or a lot) of sarcasm behind it? It’s so important for coaches and parents to remember what how you say something, and the body language that goes along with it, is just as important as what you actually say. What you say, what you mean, and what your team hears could be three very different things. Fostering good sportsmanship means being honest, but you don’t want to teach players that a mocking attitude is ever okay. Losing a game is always a bummer and it’s okay to admit that to yourself and your team but don’t try to disguise it—it usually comes out sounding much worse.
It’s easy to get caught up in the heat of the moment and yell something (hopefully encouraging) from the sidelines, but every now again you might want to check yourself before you cheer.
Stop harassment and bullying the moment you see it.
There have been some truly horrifying stories about bullying in youth sports. As adults it is our responsibility to step in long before things get so desperate that young players would consider suicide as their only escape. Harassing and bullying other players, including teammates, parents, coaches, and officials is NEVER acceptable. “Kids will be kids” is no excuse for physical, mental, or emotional torment. Will kids tease each other? Yes—but we as coaches and parents have to lay down the rules from day one that bullying in any form is not okay.
A lot of coaches and parents that played sports as a kid probably underwent some hazing of their own. But just because it was “just how things were” when you were a youth athlete that doesn’t mean it needs to stay that way! There is no reason older players have to pick on, bully and abuse their younger teammates in order to foster team spirit
Stay as positive as you can even after a loss. Keep your team in check after a win.
No one likes a sore loser. But no one likes a winner who rubs their victory in the face of the other team. A little friendly competition in youth sports is great, but don’t let winning (or losing) go the heads of your players. It’s okay to be disappointed after a loss, but sulking around the field, throwing equipment, arguing with officials and other “sore loser” behavior is not good sportsmanship. On the flip side, of course your team is going to be excited with a win, but there is no need to throw a parade on the field at the end of the game. A little celebration is fine but save the big cheers for later when it’s just your team.
Practice what you preach.
At the end of the day, our kids will learn how to be a good, or bad, sport by watching us. Are you the kind of parent/coach that screams at players when the make a mistake? Gets in the face of officials when you don’t agree with a call? Stomps up and down the sidelines when the game isn’t going your way? If that’s how you act how can you expect your players to really understand what good sportsmanship is? It’s up to us as parents and coaches to set the example for our youth athletes and practice what we preach!