Win or Lose, It’s How You Play the Game

Looking back on the 2011 US Open Women’s Final, I’d like to take a moment to discuss Serena Williams’ sportsmanship, which lends a valuable lesson for players at large. Her outburst on the court during a point was downright poor sportsmanship. However, what ensued was even worse. The umpire’s call to grant her opponent Stoser the point, propelled Williams to go into a verbal rant, telling the umpire “don’t even look at me”, accusing her of being a “hater” and a “loser.” This display is an opportunity for parents to speak with their children about the importance of good sportsmanship.

With the fall here and sports kicking into high gear, it’s imperative to teach sportsmanship skills before your child heads out onto the playing field. Coaches and parents alike play a vital role in shaping positive attitudes and behaviors in children as they embark on life as a teammate and opponent. Two major ways to develop good sportsmanship are via positive role-modeling and proactively teaching these skills, rather than assuming they’re acquired on the field or by watching sports on TV.

What is Sportsmanlike Conduct? Sportsmanlike conduct is defined as “fairness, courtesy, and being a cheerful loser.” These are the behaviors expected of a child participating in a sport. Good sportsmanship occurs when athletes show respect and concern to opponents, teammates, coaches, and officials. After all not everyone is a winner in sports, as well as other aspects of life. It’s a valuable life lesson for every child.

Examples of sportsmanlike conduct include:
Shaking hands with opponents after a game
Showing concern for injured opponents
Accepting all decisions of the referees
Encouraging less skilled teammates
Congratulating an excellent effort by opponents

Examples of unsportsmanlike conduct include:
Causing injury to an opponent on purpose
Making fun of teammates
Blaming losses on others
Crying or stomping around after a loss

How to Model Good Sportsmanship

There are many ways that you can teach sportsmanship to your children, but the most important way is for you to practice it yourself. Knute Rockne, former football coach of Notre Dame, said, “One man practicing good sportsmanship is far better than 50 others preaching it.”

From not agreeing with a ref’s call to shouting at other players, many parents get too involved at their children’s sporting events. Parents who show respect to officials and opponents before, during, and after games can truly expect their children to do the same.

Examples of showing respect to opponents and officials:
Celebrate victory respectfully
Engage in the pre- and post-game handshake
Thank officials for the job they’ve done after a game
Discuss loss constructively

Actively Teach Sportsmanship
Set up a code of conduct at the beginning of the season. Make sure to include consequences for breaking the code. Expect sportsmanship during practice and competitions.
Share examples of the good or poor behavior of professional, high school, or college athletes with your kids. Discuss this behavior with them.
Discipline your child if they behave like a “bad sport”. By allowing poor sportsmanship to happen you are teaching your child that poor sportsmanship is acceptable.
Teach children to be considerate of their teammates and their opponents when they win and lose.

By teaching these skills to your child you are ensuring that sports become an additional factor in raising a well-rounded individual. The benefits to kids who participate in sports are well documented. According to Dr. Jennifer Hartstein, a child and adolescent psychologist based in New York City, “sports are an amazing way for children to learn how to cooperate, work together, and understand how teams are effective. These are all incredibly important life lessons, as no one lives in a vacuum. Learning how to work with others early and often can only prepare children for what will be part of their lives in an ongoing way.”
Dr. Hartstein also stresses the importance of teaching kids about good sportsmanship. She says, “Knowing how to lose gracefully is key in building and maintaining relationships. Stopping to help others shows a level of compassion and understanding, which is also integral, at times, in athletics. Overall, sports can teach children how to navigate difficult situations, understand that they cannot win at all things, and how to appreciate those who are winners at different times.”
So no matter what happens during a game, winning and losing are a part of sports. As you sign your child up for their Fall sport activities, consider spending time with them to explain the importance of good sportsmanship-like conduct or sign them up for a class like sportsmanshipsklz:-). The valuable life lessons they learn today from being a part of a team will help them throughout high school, college and in the work place.20

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