By Carrie Brazeal, TSB Contributor
Have you been spending time on an athletic field? Spring is filled with kids’ soccer, softball and baseball along with a few other sports. Organized sports are great for teaching children all kinds of life skills including sportsmanship. Sportsmanship is defined by Webster as “characteristics of or behavior befitting a person who can take loss or defeat without complaint or victory without gloating and who treats his opponents with fairness, generosity, courtesy, etc.”
Like most things, children learn sportsmanship by observing adults. But have you noticed how some adults act at a sporting event? Some scream and yell at the game officials because they disagree with the call. Others yell at their kids, scream at other players or coach from the bleachers. On the other hand, some adults watch the game with interest. They cheer the kids and enjoy the game. They tell their children how proud they are of their achievement. These children know that no matter how they perform on the playing field, they are loved unconditionally.
So how can we apply this positive concept of sportsmanship with our children? Ohio State University Extension offers these suggestions for adults involved with children’s sports:
*Adults should model good sportsmanship. Children imitate adults who are important to them. Adults should model appropriate behavior during not only sporting events but other activities as well.
*We should praise children for the positive aspects of their performance. We should never make fun of or yell at a child for something he or she has done when participating in a sporting event. Adults should not boo or use inappropriate language when the other team makes a good play. More importantly, adults should applaud the efforts of all players, no matter who wins.
*Adults should respect authority. When talking to your child’s coach, be respectful and noncritical. Adults should also support the decisions and calls the game officials make. If you disagree with the call or something happens that is unfair, work through the official channels to make the necessary changes. Don’t let your temper and feelings of the moment allow you to become irate and do something you will regret later. Since our daughter has played softball since she was 4 (she’s now 21 and playing on the collegiate level), I’ve seen parents having temper tantrums that any two-year-old would be proud. Some have even been asked to leave for their disrespectful behavior.
*Encourage competition that is fair. Competition makes individuals want to do the very best that they can so they can achieve their goals. Parents should not encourage, support or condone dishonesty or cheating for the sake of winning an event at all costs. Instead, children should be encouraged to play hard and aggressively with the goal of winning. A team should win because they worked hard and performed well. If a child does well in competition, celebrate success in a respectful way.
Here are some tips for parents to help their children learn sportsmanship as they participate in team sports:
*Accept your child’s abilities. Although it’s tempting to evaluate your child’s skills and abilities with another child the same age, it is important to remember that each child develops at different rates. Each child should be judged individually on his or her own work. We should set reasonable goals that are within the child’s ability to achieve and help children evaluate their performance in terms of their own progress and accomplishments.
*Support your child. Children sometimes need motivation or encouragement. But be careful not to demand too much.
*Be selective. Help your child find a sport that incorporates good sportsmanship. Select a team with a coach who values sportsmanship.
*Correct inappropriate behavior. If your child does something that is not appropriate in regards to sportsmanship, make sure to talk to them about their behavior. Explain why the behavior is inappropriate and what a better behavior would be.
Sportsmanship can be summed up in three words: courtesy, respect, and consideration. Participating in sports provides children with opportunities to learn and acquire these traits. But what behaviors are we as parents modeling for our children?
Carrie T. Brazeal is the County Extension Agent for Family and Consumer Sciences for Texas AgriLife Extension Service. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 972.548.4233 or metro 972.424.1460, Ext. 4233.