It’s easy to be a good sport when you’re on the winning team; when you make the game-saving play; when all the pieces fall in-line. After all, how can you be upset when everything worked out perfectly? But someone’s true attitude and sportsmanship level comes through when they lose, when they (or their teammate) makes a mistake, and when everything falls apart. Being a good sport means winning with honor and losing with dignity. So how can we teach our children good sportsmanship?
1. Teach them to play by the rules…even if everyone else isn’t.
There is almost nothing more frustrating than playing by the rules and doing everything “right,” while watching someone cut corners or bend the rules and actually benefit from it. Your child might ask themselves, If they can get away with blurring the lines a little bit why can’t I? As hard as it may be to stomach, playing fair and with integrity is going to make so much more of a difference in the grand scheme of things than cheating ever will. Yes, sometimes when people cheat they get away with it; they might even win, as unfair as that is. But a good sport knows that cheating always catches up to you in the end and playing with honor no matter what means they can always hold their head high no matter what the final score is.
2. Praise your child’s teammates (and even the opposing team) when they deserve it.
Good sportsmanship means acknowledging when someone does a good job and praising them for it. We’re not suggesting you need to do cartwheels every time the opposing team scores a touchdown, but if they ran a smart play there is nothing wrong with acknowledging that. Playing with and against people that are better than them is one of the best ways a young athlete can develop their own skills. Recognize what people are doing right and give them the praise they deserve for the work they’ve put in. Being a good sport means admitting when someone worked harder or played better than you and taking what you can from the experience to grow in your own way.
3. Remind them that winning is fun, but how you play matters more.
No one like to lose, plain and simple. But as coaching legend John Wooden said “Never mention winning. My idea is that you can lose when you outscore somebody in a game. And you can win when you’re outscored.” His attitude is that the score is the byproduct of everything else you do right on the field and how you play matters more in the long run than the actual score. Competition is not inherently a bad thing, but when we want to win at all costs and do anything to get that score (including cheating, undermining our teammates to make ourselves look better, cutting corners, etc), your integrity as a person suffers. Being a great player means nothing if no one wants to play with you because people know you are likely to step all over them on your way to the top.
If two undefeated teams are pitched against each other only one team is going to leave still undefeated. But that one loss does not negate all the hard work, time and effort the losing team has put in. It stinks, it hurts, and it’s okay to be upset–but as long as you walk off the field knowing you laid it all out on the line no one can ask for anything more.