Sportsmanship is a lot like listening—we assume that everyone knows what it is and how to do it. But this is not always the case. Good sportsmanship allows us to enjoy the sports we play. When we coach children and teenagers in sports, it becomes even more important that we promote good sportsmanship.
Children play sports to have fun, but some parents and coaches promote a win-at-all-costs attitude. As parents and coaches, we play an important role in modeling the correct behaviors for our children. Children imitate what they see around them, especially when they observe a respected adult. Learning and adopting good sportsmanship will provide positive role modeling for children participating in sports.
Pat Summit, the well-respected women's basketball coach at the University of Tennessee, considers herself to be a role model to her students and athletes. She also tells her athletes, "You are role models. The question to ask is: What kind of role model will you be?"
She emphasizes that you don't have to be an athlete to be a role model, citing her parents as great models for sportsmanship and professionalism. She also cites her older brother Tommy as being a great role model because he was not only a great athlete but a great student as well, graduating from college with honors.
Pat's tips for parents are these: "Kids need to understand that they can go out there and compete to win, while being respectful. A good competitive spirit doesn't require one to play dirty or nasty. It is important to say to children, 'Do the best you can do.'"
She also adds that children learn valuable life skills through athletics, recognizing that competitors can still be your friends.
Below are some tips that parents can both demonstrate and teach to their children:
American Psychological Association
Mental Health America
Canadian Mental Health Organization
Public Health Agency of Canada
10 tips for raising a good sport. PBS parents website. Available at: http://www.pbs.org/parents/food-and-fitness/sport-and-fitness/raise-a-good-sport. Accessed January 9, 2014.
Sportsmanship. Nemours Kids Health website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/parent/emotions/behavior/sportsmanship.html. Updated October 2011. Accessed January 9, 2014.
Last reviewed January 2014 by Michael Woods, MD
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