Teaching good sportsmanship starts at home

One of my favorite things about autumn is football. I love the game with a passion that might be more than it should be at my age, but then again I suppose that depends on who’s setting the bar.

A few friends got together this past Saturday to cheer on our favorite college teams (Go Blue!), but when a commercial about sportsmanship aired I was left with some reservations about the traditional trash talking that had begun. The commercial starts out with a group of kids coming together to play a game, but before they take the field each of them give commentary of their dad’s comments during a recent football game. Each child exclaims how their dad, for example, says the refs are “stupid” and “blind.” One notes his dad believes they must be getting paid off to make such bonehead calls.

There have been games that have left me with similar conclusions but as the commercial then asks, if you’re making such statements what are you teaching your children? The answer is driven home when the kids agree they want to grow up to be just like their dads, then start their game with comments like “OK, let’s go losers, let’s play chumps.”

I’m careful about the words I use around my son but I thought this commercial was an important and powerful illustration of how teaching our children good sportsmanship starts with us modeling it when we are in the heat of battle, even if it is only from the stands or watching on a big screen TV.

Some other thoughts in teaching good sportsmanship:

  • Don’t always let your child win. It’s tempting, particularly when they’re young, but it has to be balanced. Otherwise, we teach our children to expect positive outcomes in every competition they engage in which is unrealistic and fails to teach them how to manage adversity.
  • Don’t place too much emphasis on wining or losing. Particularly when you are teaching your child about the mechanics of a particular sport, prioritize having fun. If he or she has fun, they are more likely to want to continue and learn more about the game and their desire to compete in it will take care of itself.
  • In any game your child plays, teach him to respect officials, teammates and opponents and save his complaints for private conversations after the game. Obviously, this sort of teaching can only occur if we demonstrate the same sort of behavior.
  • Remember this is your child’s experience. Remind your children, and yourself, too, if necessary, that they’re playing a sport for their enjoyment and growth, not so we can try and recapture our own.
  • Teach your children to lose and win with equal levels of class. Teach them, for example, not to retaliate for foul play or trash talk; just play as they’ve been taught and give it all they have so they’re not left questioning their efforts. And at the end of the competition, to shake their opponent’s hand because after all, it’s only a game.