Spring sports are in full gear, and what a ripe opportunity to revisit the idea of good sportsmanship.  Whether you’re playing on a baseball diamond, a basketball court, or a football field, good sportsmanship (from parents AND kids) is a key part of the game.  Thanks to an author and mom of 4, Lucy Adams (Tuck Your Skirt in Your Panties and Run and If Mama Don’t Laugh, It Ain’t Funny) who is a master at comedy, for this guest article…

Good Sportsmanship – The lesson that lasts a lifetime

By Lucy Adams

My 4 year-old little man marched in the door from his first T-ball practice, walking, by his own description, like a T-ball player, arms straight down by his sides, fists clenched, chin dipped and jutted, brow furrowed, shoulders leading the forward momentum.  “How did it go?” I asked him.

“I hit the fur off the ball,” he gloriously described his at-bats.  He played with much misguided intensity that year.  Parents in the stands loudly mumbled, “Where is that kid’s mom?”  The coach expressed complete exasperation with him.  His father and I barely hung in to the end of the season.

Our child had passion to play, but he behaved as if the entire game revolved around him.  He had to learn one of the biggest life lessons of team youth sports – to forgo the wants and needs of the self to achieve the greater goals of a group, to function well as a community member in the larger society.  Licensed Sport Psychologist Dr. Casey Cooper asserts, “Sports participation is correlated to many positive attributes that we aspire to teach our children.  Sports experiences foster citizenship, social success, positive peer relationships, leadership skills, and a sense of initiative.” Good sportsmanship is the seed from which these lifelong benefits sprout.

According to the USOC web site, “An athlete who is a good sport is someone whose conduct and attitude demonstrate gracious behavior before, during, and after competition.”  Examples of good sportsmanship include:

  • Shaking hands with the opponent
  • Losing with dignity
  • Winning without breaking the rules
  • Accepting praise with humility
  • Complimenting the play of teammates as well as members of the competitor team
  • Accepting the judgment of the game referees
  • Taking direction well from coaches
  • Respecting the spectators

How can parents and coaches teach children to display these qualities? The best method is by modeling good sportsmanship themselves. As Joe Zematis, author of Joe’s Rules: How Every Parent Can Help Their Child Excel in Life – Through Sports, very poignantly puts it, “Sports itself doesn’t magically build character.  Rather, it lends itself to many character building opportunities that coaches and parents have to seize as teaching moments in order for the full benefit to be realized.”

Check yourself if you find that you’re:

  • Taunting referees or arguing with them from the stands
  • Blaming the results of a game on the referees or coaches
  • Berating players
  • Criticizing your child’s contributions to the team

Make sure to:

  • Discuss with children the job of the referee/coach and the difficulties he/she might face
  • Help children to learn accountability for their personal play on the field
  • Cheer for good plays made by both teams
  • Coach children by teaching them technique, not by growling at mistakes
  • Keep it fun

Four years later, my son still plays with a level of fervor that his coaches and parents work to keep in check.  We strive to keep him humble, compassionate, empathetic, without squelching his drive to succeed.  As I understand my son better and better, I realize that for him, life, all the details of it, is one competition after another, both on and off the field.  He approaches his entire existence with the same spirit that he approaches the plate with bat in hand. My goal is for him to appreciate that the team and the field of play are bigger than him; to recognize there’s more to every competition than the adrenalin, the scoreboard, a bad call, a winning run.

Editor’s NoteGreat ideas and resources, Lucy!  Thanks so much for sharing!  We love to tell our boys that games aren’t made by one play alone; that referees and umpires deserve respect and will make calls they agree – and don’t agree – with; and we love team sports for too many reasons to list here!

What ideas can other parents add to this discussion about teaching – and modeling – good sportsmanship?