Here’s the thing about sportsmanship—any coach will tell you it’s an integral part of the game (any game, really—board games to the Olympic Games) for beginners and seasoned athletes alike. And it’s something that needs to be taught from a young age. It’s the responsibility of coaches, players and parents to ensure that when the buzzer sounds and the game ends, the victors and those who have been defeated engage in that all-important handshake and high-five. “My definition of sportsmanship is polite and fair behaviour, both on and off the field,” says Bates. “Participants need to honour their sport by promoting integrity, self-discipline, honest competition and always respecting their opponent.” We asked the coach how to teach your kids to be champions, whether they win or lose.
This isn’t news but losing sucks. Full stop. And learning to lose is a skill kids need to learn, just like riding a bike and catching a ball. This isn’t always an easy concept for kids (or, let’s be honest, adults), and it’s about more than waiting your turn and not sassing your opponent. Tell them that while it’s OK to feel sad and disappointed when they lose, it’s not OK to accuse the other team of cheating, throwing tantrums or storming off the field. This one’s a biggie— kids need to understand that the game is no longer fun if they don’t lose—and win—with grace.
You know what they say: “cheaters never win.” Explaining fair play is probably one of the first lessons you’ll teach. Kids should know that disagreements happen all the time in sports but it’s important to follow the rules. Good sportsmanship is also about showing up for practices and games on time, helping teammates, listening to coaches and being willing to sit out and root for fellow players when it’s not your turn on the ice, field, etc.
Monkey see, monkey do, right? “In many cases players will emulate their parents. That means you must lead by example and keep it fun, whether your team wins or loses,” says Bates. Of course this also means not taking the game too seriously—no trash talking, no fighting in the bleachers, no arguing with refs. “When players are beginning to learn a sport, seeing and hearing parents screaming at umps, for example, sends a message that this is acceptable behaviour. Remember, there is a correct way to show support for your child and others while respecting the game—cheer don’t jeer,” he says.
Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, Spring/Summer 2018