The school year is in full swing, and many children are knee deep in their favorite fall sports, sometimes multiple days per week.
Lots of parents want their child's early athletic experiences to be an opportunity to learn important life lessons. But when tensions run high on the field, this is easier said than done.
Here are some practical tips for helping your child to be a good sport:
1. Explain clearly what sportsmanship looks like.
Don't assume your child knows what sportsmanship means. Explain to them in kid-friendly, specific terms what it looks like in different situations. For example:
-Respecting teammates, opponents, and referees
-Winning without gloating
-Losing gracefully without making excuses
-Giving handshakes at the end of the game
-Cheering for their teammates even when they make mistakes
-Treating other players the way they themselves would like to be treated.
-Celebrating successful plays in a low-key, communal way rather than individual grandstanding
-Staying calm when refs make bad calls
-Attend practices and games consistently
Look for these behaviors and praise them for these actions to communicate their importance.
2. Model the behavior you want to see.
As in all things, children are impacted more by what we do, not what we say. Your words and actions can set a powerful tone for all of the children participating. Your job as a spectator is to be a force for positivity, cheering not only for successes but also for strong efforts and progress made.
(A nearby sign at the Glendale Little League field reminds parents "Your child is not being scouted by the Brewers today.")
3. Support the coach on and off the field.
Avoid coaching from the sidelines, and allow the coach to do the instructing and facilitating. Sending mixed messages to your child can be confusing and undercut the coach's authority. According to Jennifer Morson of espn.com, "even if you happen to have some coaching expertise or knowledge of the sport, showing a united front to your child is essential."
At home, cultivate respect for their coach and emphasize the importance of working hard in practice and at games.
If concerns arise, encourage your child to communicate with their coach directly. This can be a good opportunity for your child to gain confidence and practice their communication skills.
4. Emphasize and praise your child's progress.
It's fun to celebrate a win, and it's natural to console our child after a loss, but be sure to focus on other things besides winning and losing. Perhaps they assisted a teammate in a successful play or stayed calm during a terrible call. Praise their growth, strong efforts, and progress from where they started.
5. Focus on fun.
For kids under 12, the main focus of sports should be fun and cooperation rather than just winning.
Conor Porter, a former Villanova soccer player who now coaches youth, says "Winning shouldn't even be part of the conversation at an early age. Development is the only yardstick that we should be using," he says. (espn.com)