Teaching Your Child to be a Good Sport

Raising children and managing the ups and downs of youth sports often go hand in hand. For parents, this not only means cheering from the stands, but also helping children learn the importance and character-building value of good sportsmanship. Here are some strategies for raising kids who not only enjoy sports, but are good sports, too.

Set expectations. 

Take the time to share a pre-season conversation with your child about how he or she should act on the field, sidelines and in the locker room. It’s easier to hold kids accountable for their behavior if the ground rules are firmly established up front. Include discussions about respect, teamwork and being both a good winner and a good loser.

Model the attitude you want your child to convey. 

Remember that when you are yelling at the referee from the sideline (yes, even when he missed calling that penalty), you are sending a message to your child that this behavior is acceptable. The same holds true for criticizing your child’s coach. Even if you disagree with the coaching strategy, resist undermining the coach in front of your child. It’s hard to teach respect to children when parents model disrespectful behavior.

Positively reinforce good behavior. 

Touchdowns and home runs are rewarded with cheers and high fives, but exceptional sportsman-like conduct is sometimes overlooked. Offer praise when you notice your athlete showing good sportsmanship, such as gracefully handling a tough loss, helping an opponent stand up post tumble, or respectfully accepting a questionable call against her team.

Emphasize your child’s value off the field. 

Sports are great for kids; they build confidence, provide exercise and help teach social skills. It’s important, however, for children to recognize that winning isn’t everything. If your child hits the game-winning shot—great—but be sure he knows he’s equally important and loved on the days his buzzer beater is off target.

Danielle N. Wiese, MD

Author of this Article

Danielle N. Wiese, MD is a pediatrician who follows the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics. She practices at Riley Physicians Pediatrics - IU Health North. Dr. Wiese earned her medical degree from the Indiana University School of Medicine and completed a residency at Nationwide Children's Hospital with the Ohio State University. She is an Indianapolis resident along with her husband and daughter Noelle.

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