Child Development: 4 Tips to Teach Kids to Be Good Sports

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Parenting—Are your kids good losers? If not, you're not alone. In the competitive world we live in, children are taught directly and indirectly from a young age that winning is the goal. As parents, it is our responsibility to teach our kids that while winning a game may be a worthwhile goal to work toward, that being a good winner and a good loser is critical in helping you get the most enjoyment possible out of a game.


My son Connor, now 9 1/2 years old, learned this lesson the hard way. We had a family game night every Monday night for years. UNO was the most popular game for several of the years. And nearly every game ended the same way. We'd be having loads of fun, we'd have to stop along the way for fits of laughter, and then all of a sudden someone other than Connor would shout "Uno!" and everything would go downhill from there. Assuming that there was no way he would be able to win after hearing the shout, Connor would ruin the rest of the game for all of us, sulking, crying, getting mad. Typically a very gentled mannered and kind kid, he would come unglued at the thought of losing, ruining any chance of walking away with positive memories and almost always hurting his chances of winning. After all, you can still win after someone has called out "Uno!"

But, we kept on playing and now, we're onto Boggle. And, wouldn't you know it? Connor is loving playing games and is all about the experience, regardless of whether he wins or loses. It just took a lot of playing games for him to learn how to be a good sport.

In the book, 365 Manners Kids Should Know by Sheryl Eberly and Caroline Eberly, an entire section is dedicated to this topic, called: "Be a Good Sport." Mother and daughter Sheryl and Caroline, capture the importance of being a good loser by stating:

At the end of a sports season, the child who is most loved and respected by peer and parents is likely the one who encouraged teammates, didn't demand the limelight, worked hard, and didn't get too serious. School-age athletes should enjoy the experience and work hard, but not participate as though winning is everything. Most kids won't go on to play professional sports; the legacy their building should be one of fond memories and fun experiences with the team.

4 Tips to Teach Your Kids to Be a Good Sport

Sheryl and Caroline Eberly encourage parents to follow these tips when teaching their kids to be a good sport:

  1. Karate "Enjoy the game." Encourage your kids to give their best; develop discipline; enjoy the game; not give up when things are hard, when they aren't the best person on the team, or when the team isn't winning; help them know the efforts required of all teammates both on and off the "field"; share the concept of how practice makes perfect; help your kids understand that winning isn't everything; and finally, if a particular sport isn't fun for your children, encourage them to try a new sport that may be better suited for their skills and talents.
  2. "[Form] rituals at athletic events." Rituals help establish a baseline for each sport and help kids understand that decorum is important. Encourage your kids to participate in rituals like the national anthem, introductions (shaking the other teams' hands before a game), respecting the referees, and congratulating the team after the game is over. Regardless of who wins, both teams should recognize the other team's effort by saying, "Good game!"
  3. "[Demonstrate] good sportsmanship." Helping your kids to recognize both their coach's and their teammates contribution and showing gratitude for it is a great way to help them to be a good sport. Role play with them before practices, by helping them learn phrases like: "Great play!" Or, "Way to go!"
  4. "[Be a] valued teammate." I love this last tip and I echo the authors' sentiment: "The child who cultivates the following habits will be a player who is valued by teammates, coaches, and parents alike." Habits they shared include: learning and following the rules, controlling their temper, respecting everyone, not blaming others, learning from their mistakes, playing an honest game, fulfilling the basic obligations (going to practice, maintaining his uniform, etc.), and keeping supplies on hand.

While these tips are geared to sports, they also apply to other interactions where winning and losing is part of, or even just a perceived part of, the experience, like playing games as a family, playing video games with friends, and working on team projects at school. 

What tips do you have for teaching your kids to be good sports?

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An active part of the Mom It Forward team, Jyl primarily writes about parenting, social good, and all things travel related. In a past life, Jyl was an award-winning copywriter and designer of corporate training programs for Fortune 100 companies. Offline, Jyl is married to @TroyPattee; a mom to two teen boys and a beagle named #Hashtag; loves large amounts of cheese, dancing, and traveling; and lives in the beautiful Rocky Mountains. Topping her bucket list is the goal to visit 50 countries by the time she's 50.


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