Play Ball! 5 Tips for Teaching Good Sportsmanship


It’s no big secret that kids are competitive on the playing field. The minute they pick up that baseball bat or score their first goal in soccer, they enter the world of winning and losing. That’s a good thing, when you stop to think about.  There’s a lot to be learned from winning and losing

In fact, healthy competition is full of important life lessons.  You can compete with your friends on the field but still enjoy building Legos together off the field.  You can lose a game but still score a goal.  You can learn new skills while running around and having fun.  And you can gain confidence along the way.

Yes, healthy competition is a very good thing. But a large part of healthy competition is learning the art of good sportsmanship. All too often the need to win at all costs makes team sports a little less fun and changes the vibe from competitive to hurtful.

It’s time to focus on raising good sports instead of thinking about winners and losers.

Model it: Parents tend to get overinvolved in youth sports today.  The poor sportsmanship shown by overly competitive parents on the sidelines teaches kids that winning is important and results are what matters most. Model good sportsmanship by cheering for effort, befriending parents on the opposing team, and keeping calm during the game. When you practice with your child on off days, show him that it’s ok to miss a goal or lose the game.  You can still have fun.

Praise effort: Sure, it’s fun to win.  And it’s very exciting when your child scores a goal or makes an amazing play.  Those moments should absolutely be celebrated.  But so should effort.  There will be difficult games that end in a big loss but, chances are, your child probably played her heart out.  Go ahead and point out the great plays she made and the ways her team worked together.

Talk about frustration: It’s both perfectly normal and acceptable for kids to become frustrated during a difficult game.  What’s isn’t acceptable is when kids take their frustration out on other kids and/or tease kids on the other team.  Talk to your child about those angry feelings and come up with coping strategies that work.

Promote team unity: When kids work together as a team, they perform better on the field. Parents can get caught up in individual achievement and forget about the importance of the group effort.  Build team spirit off the field to improve the relationships among team members.  Organize pizza and movie nights or head to the local bowling ally for a little fun minus the pressure of winning.

Avoid incentives: It seems that some parents actually pay their kids for goals these days.  Sadly, performance payments aren’t just for the office anymore.  When you pay your child for each goal, you teach your child that goals are the most important part of the game.  You also highlight individual achievement versus teamwork.  The incentive to play should be the love of the game and the boost to your child’s self-confidence.  End of story.

Has your kid ever been a poor sport?  How did you handle it?   

What do you think?

Play Ball! 5 Tips for Teaching Good Sportsmanship

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" and "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World". She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about he ... More

Tell us what you think!

1 comment


Get a FREE Newborn Sleep Guide when you sign up for our newsletter

By joining the community, you will have access to our active community of mothers just like you, interactive tools, sweepstakes, free baby offers and more! You will also receive customized newsletters tailored specifically to you and special offers directly in your inbox.By joining the community, you will have access to our active community of mothers, interactive tools, sweepstakes, free baby offers, customized email newsletters tailored specifically to you and special offers directly in your inbox.

Due Date or Baby's Birth Date

By clicking the "Join Now" button you are agreeing to the terms of use and privacy policy.

Send this to a friend